• Adaptation;
  • decision making;
  • hurricanes;
  • laboratory simulation;
  • natural hazards

This article investigates the use of dynamic laboratory simulations as a tool for studying decisions to prepare for hurricane threats. A prototype web-based simulation named Stormview is described that allows individuals to experience the approach of a hurricane in a computer-based environment. In Stormview participants can gather storm information through various media, hear the opinions of neighbors, and indicate intentions to take protective action. We illustrate how the ability to exert experimental control over the information viewed by participants can be used to provide insights into decision making that would be difficult to gain from field studies, such as how preparedness decisions are affected by the nature of news coverage of prior storms, how a storm's movement is depicted in graphics, and the content of word-of-mouth communications. Data from an initial application involving a sample of Florida residents reveal a number of unexpected findings about hurricane risk response. Participants who viewed forecast graphics, which contained track lines depicting the most likely path of the storm, for example, had higher levels of preparation than those who saw graphics that showed only uncertainty cones—even among those living far from the predicted center path. Similarly, the participants who were most likely to express worry about an approaching storm and fastest to undertake preparatory action were those who, ironically, had never experienced one. Finally, external validity is evidenced by a close rank-order correspondence between patterns of information use revealed in the lab and that found in previous cross-sectional field studies.