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Natech or natural? An analysis of hazard perceptions, institutional trust, and future storm worry following Hurricane Harvey

Abstract

Researchers have traditionally conceptualized hazards that give rise to disasters as “natural” or “technological.” An extensive literature has documented differential social consequences based on this distinction, including the emergence of corrosive community dynamics in the context of technological disasters. There is also growing recognition that many disasters can be conceptualized as “natech”—processes characterized by a combination of natural and technological hazards. On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall along the central Texas Gulf Coast, causing catastrophic flooding and extensive releases of industrial toxins. We examined variation in institutional trust and future storm worry in the aftermath of Harvey, paying special attention to differences between those who viewed the disaster as being primarily natech and natural. Drawing on the Survey of Trauma, Resilience, and Opportunity in Neighborhoods in the Gulf, we analyzed two waves of cohort panel data collected from households on the Texas Gulf Coast in 2016 and 2018 (before and after Hurricane Harvey). Our findings showed that those who perceived Harvey as natech (compared to natural) were significantly more likely distrust major institutional actors and be worried about the impacts of future storms, even after accounting for pre-hurricane characteristics. Implications for community dynamics and future research are then discussed.

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Notes

  1. Researchers argue that disasters cannot in and of themselves be considered “natural” (e.g., Drabek 2013; Lindell 2013; Perry 2018; Quarantelli 1989; Tierney 2014; UNDRR 2019). Rather, it is hazards—the conditions or events that pose a threat to society and environment—that can be of natural (or human) origins. Disasters, in turn, are determined by the severity of a hazard’s impact on social and environmental systems, with “severity” itself being a social calculus. An important distinction here is that we examine disaster perceptions, underscored by the Thomasian notion that what is perceived as real is real in its consequences.

  2. For recent exceptions, see Thomas et al. (2018) and Thompson et al. (2019).

  3. Data quality analysis confirmed that 271 respondents were the same between the two waves, 19 were definitely different, and 5 were indeterminate. Sensitivity analysis dropping those who were definitely different produced similar substantive results.

  4. There were 41 cases with missing data on the items that comprise this measure. These cases were dropped in the regression models. Sensitivity analysis taking the mean from data available on any item (versus all of them) produced similar substantive results.

  5. There were 32 cases with missing data on the items that comprise this measure. These cases were dropped in the regression models. Sensitivity analysis taking the mean from data available on any item (versus all of them) produced similar substantive results.

  6. There were 12 cases with missing data on this item. These cases were dropped from the entire analysis. Those who viewed Hurricane Harvey as human-made alone (not in combination with natural forces) were a very small group (2.8% of the sample). Sensitivity analysis dropping this group from the natech measure produced similar substantive results. We elected to maintain these cases in the analysis presented, rather than dropping them, to maximize the use of observations without missing data given the relatively small sample size.

  7. There were 21 cases with missing data on the items that comprise this measure. These cases were dropped in the regression models. Sensitivity analysis taking the mean from data available on any item (versus all of them) produced similar substantive results.

  8. There were 25 cases with missing data on the items that comprise this measure. These cases were dropped in the regression models. Sensitivity analysis taking the mean from data available on any item (versus all of them) produced similar substantive results.

  9. Assessment of differences in sample selection between waves 1 and 2 of the survey (i.e., the degree to which there were differences between those who participated in both waves and those we were unable to recontact) showed no substantial differences between the two samples in terms of race, Hispanic ethnicity, sex, or education. Respondents in the wave 2 sample were older than those in wave 1. This further justified the inclusion of respondent age as control variable in our regression models.

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Acknowledgements

This research was made possible by grants from the National Science Foundation (#1760484) and the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. The data used in this study are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at https://data.gulfresearchinitiative.org (https://doi.org/10.7266/n76971z0. https://doi.org/10.7266/1d4hs43n).

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Appendices

Appendix 1. Descriptive statistics

  Percent/mean SD N
Dependent variables    
Distrust in institutions 1.1 0.84 254
Worry about future storms 1.4 0.88 263
Independent variables    
Natech (yes = 1) 37.1 283
Prior distrust in information 0.9 0.52 271
Prior worry about DHOS 0.8 0.84 267
DHOS exposure (yes = 1) 34.9 295
Controls    
Sex (male = 1) 37.3 295
Age (years) 59.1 17.06 295
Race/ethnicity (NH white = 1) 56.6 295
Education (HS or less = 1) 31.2 295
  1. NH non-Hispanic; HS high school; SD standard deviation

Appendix 2. Percent by self-reported Hurricane Harvey exposure

  Natech N Natural N
Unsure about family/friend safety 77.2*** 101 43.4 175
Took on additional debt 34.3* 102 21.3 169
Had to stay outside of home 32.3 105 32.0 178
Did not meet essential expenses 27.0 100 29.3 167
Exposed to chemicals 26.0*** 100 9.4 170
Applied for federal assistance 24.0 104 16.6 175
More than $10 k damage 23.5 102 16.0 175
Home affected by mold 21.0 100 15.5 174
Did not pay full rent/mortgage 19.6 102 14.5 165
Did not have adequate food 18.2 99 18.0 167
Unable to get to work 11.6* 95 4.8 165
Household income lower 10.9 101 12.1 174
Someone you know injured or killed 10.5 105 9.6 178
Personally injured 3.9 103 1.1 175
Lost job 3.8 104 2.3 172
Pet injured or killed 1.0 103 1.2 173
  1. Statistical significance determined by two-tailed independent samples t tests
  2. *p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001

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Slack, T., Parks, V., Ayer, L. et al. Natech or natural? An analysis of hazard perceptions, institutional trust, and future storm worry following Hurricane Harvey. Nat Hazards 102, 1207–1224 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-03953-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-03953-6

Keywords

  • Hurricane Harvey
  • Natech disaster
  • Institutional trust
  • Worry
  • Recreancy