Why Near-Miss Events Can Decrease an Individual's Protective Response to Hurricanes


Address correspondence to Robin L. Dillon, The McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA; tel: 202-687-4398; fax: 202-687-4031; rld9@georgetown.edu.


Prior research shows that when people perceive the risk of some hazardous event to be low, they are unlikely to engage in mitigation activities for the potential hazard. We believe one factor that can lower inappropriately (from a normative perspective) people's perception of the risk of a hazard is information about prior near-miss events. A near-miss occurs when an event (such as a hurricane), which had some nontrivial probability of ending in disaster (loss of life, property damage), does not because good fortune intervenes. People appear to mistake such good fortune as an indicator of resiliency. In our first study, people with near-miss information were less likely to purchase flood insurance, and this was shown for both participants from the general population and individuals with specific interests in risk and natural disasters. In our second study, we consider a different mitigation decision, that is, to evacuate from a hurricane, and vary the level of statistical probability of hurricane damage. We still found a strong effect for near-miss information. Our research thus shows how people who have experienced a similar situation but escape damage because of chance will make decisions consistent with a perception that the situation is less risky than those without the past experience. We end by discussing the implications for risk communication.