Down But Not Out: Earthquake Awareness and Preparedness Trends in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area, 1990-1997

November 1998 (VOL. 16, NO. 3)

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This paper reports results of a telephone survey in the St. Louis metropolitan area assessing household earthquake awareness and preparedness in November 1997. This survey extends time-series data on awareness and preparedness in the area, which I obtained from earlier surveys conducted in October 1990, February 1991, July 1992, and May 1993. The previous surveys constitute the only time-series data assessing the effects of a pseudoscientific earthquake prediction (in this case, one made by the late Iben Browning) with measurement of attitudes and beliefs both before and after disconfirmation of the prediction. In general, the new survey shows that both the perceived risk of a damaging earthquake and levels of household preparedness in the region have undergone steady, long-term declines since 1991. There has also been some decline in concern about earthquake risk since 1992. Nonetheless, there has been some lasting effect of preparation actions taken in response to Iben Browning’s 1990 pseudoscientific earthquake prediction. For all three preparedness actions for which data are available from 1990 through 1997, the 1997 data indicate a higher level of preparedness than was observed in October 1990, two months before the date on which Browning said a damaging earthquake was likely. And the level of preparedness is much higher than was observed in the larger New Madrid region in another survey taken in 1987.