Demographic and Psychological Factors and Preparation for Earthquakes
New Zealand, like many countries, is at risk from a number of natural disasters including flooding, volcanoes, and earthquakes. The risk of exposure to such disasters over the course of a lifetime is substantial (Norris, 1992). Despite this, many New Zealanders are unprepared for the consequences of a natural disaster; nearly a quarter of New Zealand homes have flaws which could see them seriously damaged or detached from their foundations in a major earthquake (Ansell & Taber, 1996). Recent research suggests that psychological variables contribute to people's lack of preparation for natural disasters. A limitation, however, of much of this research has been the lack of attention paid to the psychometric quality of the instruments used to measure key constructs. The present investigation aimed to examine the relationships between different dimensions of personality and earthquake preparation in a large sample of Wellington residents using psychometrically sound measures. Measures of locus of control, risk, and earthquake preparation were first evaluated in a series of studies using both university students and Wellington residents. These questionnaires were then administered, along with items pertaining to the construct of unrealistic optimism, to a total of 358 Wellington residents. The results showed that locus of control, risk precaution, home ownership, and length of residence were significant predictors of earthquake preparation. Moreover, people exhibited evidence of unrealistic optimism, as demonstrated by both a belief that they were better prepared for a major earthquake than an acquaintance, or other Wellingtonians, and by a belief that they were personally less likely than others to suffer injury in a major earthquake. The implications of these results for emergency managers are discussed and several recommendations are made.