Natural Hazards

, Volume 75, Issue 1, pp 635–652 | Cite as

When a hazard occurs where it is not expected: risk judgments about different regions after the Christchurch earthquakes

  • John McClure
  • David Johnston
  • Liv Henrich
  • Taciano L. Milfont
  • Julia Becker
Original Paper


Research on risk judgments about hazards has not examined risk perception inside and outside the affected regions when a disaster occurs in an unexpected location. This research examined preparedness and judgments of earthquake risk after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake in three New Zealand cities: Christchurch, Wellington, and Palmerston North. We selected Christchurch, because its citizens did not expect an earthquake (but it occurred there); Wellington, because its citizens expected an earthquake (but it did not occur there); and Palmerston North, because its citizens did not expect an earthquake (and it did not occur there) and is thus comparable to Christchurch before the earthquakes. The research examined the relation of participant city to risk assessments for before (recall) and after the earthquakes, participants’ attributions for their risk judgments and for (not) preparing, and earthquake damage for Christchurch participants. Participants reported that prior to the earthquakes, they saw an earthquake as more likely in Wellington than in Christchurch and Palmerston North. In all three samples, expectations of another earthquake in Christchurch were significantly higher after the Christchurch earthquakes. Palmerston North expectancies of a local earthquake were also higher after the earthquakes, whereas Wellington citizens’ expectancies of a local earthquake were only marginally higher. Preparations increased after the earthquakes, particularly in Christchurch. These findings suggest that prior expectancies and disaster experiences affect earthquake risk judgments and preparation inside and outside the affected region.


Risk judgment Optimism Earthquakes Personal experience Expectancy 



We thank Charlotte Gutenbrunner, Tess McClure, Peter Ranger, and Justin Velluppillai for collecting data, and Sana Oshika for entering data and assistance with the analyses. This research was funded by an EQC (Earthquake Commission) grant to John McClure and David Johnston. We acknowledge grants from the EQC (Earthquake Commission) and a Foundation of Research Science and Technology (FRST) subcontract to GNS Science: CO5X0402.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • John McClure
    • 1
  • David Johnston
    • 2
  • Liv Henrich
    • 1
  • Taciano L. Milfont
    • 1
  • Julia Becker
    • 2
  1. 1.School of PsychologyVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.Joint Centre for Disaster ResearchMassey University/GNS ScienceWellingtonNew Zealand

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