Decisions Under Duress: Influences on Official Decision Making During Superstorm Sandy
During impending storms, emergency managers and politicians are tasked with the difficult decision of whether or not to issue evacuation orders for their area. This study uses Superstorm Sandy as a case study and investigates how emergency managers (EMs) and politicians made these critical evacuation decisions. Within this larger research question, this study aimed to accomplish five objectives: determining 1) the weather information sources used; 2) the chain of communication among emergency managers and politicians; 3) the situational and cognitive factors that influenced decisions made; 4) how the uncertainty and changing weather information influenced EM perceptions of risk and decision making; and 5) the relationship between and roles of EMs and politicians. Literature on decision making has focused almost exclusively on the publics, yet it is vital to understand how these officials make decisions in order to achieve a more cohesive and interconnected network of hazardous weather preparation and response among all involved parties. A total of twenty five in-depth interviews, a focus group, and a newspaper analysis were conducted in New Jersey and New York to help answer the question of how emergency managers and politicians made decisions during Superstorm Sandy. Including different locations added a geographical and socio-economic context, which enhanced the overall understanding of the decision making process both temporally and spatially. Grounded theory, a qualitative data analysis method, was used to determine the various factors influencing decisions. A major contribution of this research to the hazards field is the creation of a decision making model fitted specifically to the role of emergency managers. This model highlights the complexity and individuality of decision making by illustrating the wide variety of factors, including those of the municipality itself, individual EM, and Sandy’s uncertainty, that influenced evacuations decisions. How decisions were influenced by these factors was not uniform across geographic regions. Many factors, such as prior storm experience and knowledge of the town, proved to be more influential in the decision making process than was weather information, such as forecasts. This model further distinguished between making a decision and actually taking action, exploring the different triggers associated with turning a decision into action. The decision to evacuate is far more complex than simply providing available weather information. In a similar vein to studies that examine public response to hazards, this study considers emergency managers as individuals who often rely on a variety of non-weather sources; this recognition is key to identifying opportunities for improved response. It is vital that forecasters and other tool developers understand that the weather information they provide plays only a small part in how EMs make critical evacuation decisions. Placing emergency managers within the context of the complex, geographically-based networks in which they reside and recognizing that one size does not fit all are significant contributions that this research brings to the hazards field and to future studies on this under researched group of officials.
Hoekstra, Stephanie. (December 2015). Decisions Under Duress: Influences on Official Decision Making During Superstorm Sandy (Doctoral Dissertation, East Carolina University). Retrieved from the Scholarship. (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/5121.)
Hoekstra, Stephanie. Decisions Under Duress: Influences on Official Decision Making During Superstorm Sandy. Doctoral Dissertation. East Carolina University, December 2015. The Scholarship. http://hdl.handle.net/10342/5121. August 15, 2018.
Hoekstra, Stephanie, “Decisions Under Duress: Influences on Official Decision Making During Superstorm Sandy” (Doctoral Dissertation., East Carolina University, December 2015).
Hoekstra, Stephanie. Decisions Under Duress: Influences on Official Decision Making During Superstorm Sandy [Doctoral Dissertation]. Greenville, NC: East Carolina University; December 2015.
East Carolina University