Date of Award

Fall 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Public Service


Public Administration and Policy

Committee Director

Juita-Elena (Wie) Yusuf

Committee Member

Meagan Jordan

Committee Member

Nicole Hutton Shannon


This research explores the complexity of individual response during hazards and disasters and the psychological factors that influence risk perception and response. Borrowing concepts from the false alarm theory of neurology and desensitization theory as applied to media, the false alarm and desensitization model explains the perpetuation of insufficient preparation and hazard response by individuals. The model features two primary components – hazard and disaster events resulting in false alarms and those resulting in desensitization – both of which decrease the likelihood of adequate response during subsequent events. Together, each model component leads to underestimating the potential for and severity of future hazards and disasters, thus leaving individuals vulnerable. This narrative offers a detailed literature review of current scholarship on false alarms and desensitization in emergency management and applies the components of the model to existing research. Furthermore, a study of the risk perceptions and evacuation behaviors of undergraduate and graduate college students affected by coastal hazards and disasters allows the examination of the utility of the model in a real-world situation. A mixed methods approach is used to collect data. Qualitative data is collected through two focus groups with the purpose of refining the model and survey questions delivered to college students, and a combination of qualitative and quantitative data is collected through the survey itself. Manual coding, frequency distributions, and ordinal logistic regressions are used to analyze the data to obtain a better understanding of how false alarms and desensitization affect emergency management in a vulnerable population in order to promote better hazard and disaster outcomes in the future.


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