Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Urban Studies


School of Urban Planning and Regional Studies

Major Professor

Farris, Monica

Second Advisor

Stich, Bethany

Third Advisor

Kiefer, John


Disasters are increasing in intensity and frequency. With this expectation, it is important for communities to be proactive in disaster preparedness to ensure the safety of their citizens. Vulnerable populations need special consideration in disaster planning. The elderly are one of these vulnerable groups. By 2025 one-quarter of the U.S. population will fall into the 65 or older age category. Age itself does not make a person vulnerable. It is physical and cognitive change that often accompany aging which can make a person vulnerable. The importance of elderly vulnerability and risk perception cannot be overlooked. The casualty data alone can demonstrate the severity of the issue, and with an increasing elderly population, the issue will only grow. Perception plays a key role in how a person prepares for risk and thus affects level of vulnerability. Understanding perception of risk is a crucial part of disaster planning. Many factors contribute to perception especially in vulnerable populations. Understanding the factors allows emergency management professionals to address the issues they can and better accommodate those they cannot correct. The purpose of this study is to explore risk perception in the elderly and how it might affect their disaster preparedness. Focus groups were conducted at an assisted living facility. While this study was in progress Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana in August 2021. This provided a unique opportunity to conduct before and after research to examine the difference in risk and disaster perceptions in the elderly. Focus groups were reconvened at the same assisted living facility for comparison. In addition, elder care and disaster management experts were interviewed regarding existing elder-focused disaster preparedness plans and the challenges of keeping the elderly safe. Results indicate changes in risk perception pre- and post-storm, as well as differences in perceptions between the elderly and elder care and disaster management experts. Additionally, Hurricane Ida highlighted some failings in communications and senior housing regulations. These findings indicate that risk perception play a role in vulnerability, and, as such, a greater consideration needs to be given to the elderly’s perception of risk in disaster preparedness.


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