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Hurricane Attitudes of Coastal Connecticut Residents: A Segmentation Analysis to Support Communication


Social scientists who conduct post-disaster studies have long understood that people are often surprised by and unprepared for the severity or extent of natural hazards. Such results are found even despite major advances in the technical accuracy and advanced warning of storm forecasts. In fact, a post-storm review of Superstorm Sandy concluded that progress in forecasting may have reached a point of diminishing returns; the critical need now is progress in risk communication.

“The quality of the meteorology is so far ahead of the quality of threat communications in the U.S. that progress in forecasting is becoming less and less relevant.”
– The Weather Channel hurricane specialist Bryan Norcross

Decades of social science research demonstrates that communication is most effective when it is informed by the specific and diverse needs of the audience. In the context of disaster preparedness, this requires gaining a deep understanding of the psychological, cultural and sociological factors that shape public responses to hazards; these insights can then inform emergency managers’ communication strategies.

Audience segmentation is an analytical research tool that identifies cohesive differentiated audiences within a population that each respond to messages in a different way. In the case of coastal storm preparedness and response, the key audience attributes of interest are hazard awareness and knowledge, risk perceptions, prior experience, and related behaviors and behavioral barriers.

Here we present the results from a segmentation analysis of coastal Connecticut residents. We find residents’ hurricane attitudes align along a spectrum that ranges from one group (the First Out) that feels the most anxious and are the most likely to leave prior to a storm making landfall, to another (the Diehards) that feels the most prepared and is the most unlikely to respond to officials calling for evacuations. Three additional segments exist, roughly along a spectrum, between these two poles.

This report describes and characterizes the five audience segments based on an analysis of their hurricane attitudes and risk perceptions, barriers to evacuation, and storm-related behaviors. We also provide demographic and geographic profiles of the segments. The findings help explain how coastal CT residents vary in their understanding and misunderstanding of coastal storm risks, whom they trust as information sources, where they get their news and information about coastal storms, and their past and future likelihood of taking preparedness or evacuation actions. The analysis also reveals which factors – risk perceptions, prior experiences, behavioral barriers, or something else – most influence the storm-related decisions of each group.

This report is based on results from a 12-page mail-out/mail-back representative survey of households located in Connecticut coastal evacuation zones A and B (as defined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). The survey was conducted in October, 2014 among 1,130 adults (18+) by Abt SRBI and the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication ( The survey completion rate was 31.4%. Of the 1,130 surveys completed, 684 were in Zone A (38.0% completion rate) and 446 in Zone B (24.8%). The difference in completion rates is likely due to topic salience for respondents who live in Zone A, who are more likely to be directly affected by hurricanes. The average margin of error for the total sample is +/- 3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.Citation reference lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.

The project was funded by NOAA under the Coastal Storm Awareness Program (NOAA awards NA13OAR4830227, NA13OAR4830228, NA13OAR4830229) from the National Sea Grant College Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The Federal funds were provided via appropriations under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-2) and the Sea Grant Act (33 U.S.C. 1121 et seq.). Funding was awarded to the financial hosts of the Sea Grant College Programs in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York via their financial host institutions, the University of Connecticut, the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, and the Research Foundation of State University of New York, respectively. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Sea Grant College Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Commerce, or any of the other listed organizations.

Executive Summary

Five distinct groups of CT coastal residents are identified based on their hurricane attitudes: the “First Out” (21% of the population); the “Constrained” (14%); the “Optimists” (16%); the “Reluctant” (27%); and the “Diehards (22%).” The First Out are the most likely to evacuate during a hurricane whereas the Diehards are the least likely to leave. Each group, however, has unique characteristics.

  • The First Out perceive the greatest risk from hurricanes and are likely to evacuate if one is forecast to make landfall nearby. Of the First Out residents who experienced Superstorm Sandy, 55% evacuated.
  • The Constrained understand the risks of staying home during a hurricane, but feel they would have trouble evacuating if they wanted (or needed) to due to poor health/disability, pets, or lack of money. 22% of the Constrained evacuated during Superstorm Sandy – the highest proportion aside from the First Out.
  • Optimists have the lowest expectations of all the groups that a hurricane of any strength will occur in the next 50 years, although they say they would evacuate if one did occur. Perhaps because they think hurricanes are so unlikely, Optimists are the least prepared and most likely of all the groups to perceive significant barriers to evacuating, such as health/disability issues, lack of money, and lack of know- how.
  • The Reluctant are less afraid of hurricanes than average and tend to live farther from the coast than the other groups. However, Reluctant individuals would evacuate if told to do so by a relevant authority – especially local police or fire departments, another local government official, or the Governor’s Office. Like the First Out, the Reluctant do not perceive significant barriers to their evacuation, and with an evacuation order, they are likely to evacuate at levels similar to the First Out.
  • Diehards have the lowest hurricane risk perceptions of all the groups and are the least likely to evacuate. Diehards feel self-reliant and confident that they can protect themselves; they also believe it is safer to stay home than to evacuate so they can protect their property. Pets are an important barrier to leaving for 25% of the Diehards. Of the Diehards who experienced Superstorm Sandy, only 6% evacuated.
  • All of the segments are most likely to evacuate if they receive an evacuation order from local officials, whether police, fire, or other government workers (as compared with announcements from weather broadcasters or other sources on the TV or radio).

The unique perceptions and needs of coastal Connecticut residents in the event of a hurricane underscores the importance of tailoring messages about storm preparedness, the nature of storm hazards and the likelihood of different damages, as well as evacuation resources. Some groups understand the risks and need minimal information in order to respond appropriately, whereas others understand the risks but need assistance. Still others misunderstand the risks and thus require education and outreach efforts well before a hurricane makes landfall.


We are grateful to our NOAA Sea Grant collaborators as well as the YPCCC staff, including Lisa Fernandez, Bessie Schwarz, Zena Grecni, and Laurie Bozzuto for their assistance with the project. We would like to thank Peg Van Patten at Connecticut Sea Grant in particular for her efforts in developing the project. We also greatly appreciate the support from Governor Dannel Malloy for this project. Many people in the CT State Government spoke with us and improved the survey instrument, including William P. Shea, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Emergency Services & Public Protection; John Gustafson, Emergency Telecommunications Manager, Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection; William J. Hackett, State Emergency Management Director, State of Connecticut, Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection; Robert F. Kenny, Jr., Emergency Management Area Coordinator, Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Region 1 Office. Conversations with Scott Devico, DEMHS Public Information Officer, Peter Sandgren, Radiological Emergency Preparedness, DESPP Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Matthew Walsh of the Army Corps of Engineers, and Elizabeth Ban, Director of Communication, NOAA Sea Grant College Program, were extremely helpful. Jay Baker provided valuable information about a recent survey on hurricane evacuation behavior that greatly improved this study.