Predicting Residents’ Responses to the May 1-4, 2010, Boston Water Contamination Incident

March 2017 (VOL. 35, NO. 1)

Download this article

This study examined 110 local residents’ warning sources, warning channels, warning receipt times, message content, risk perception, and behavioral responses (warning confirmation, and consumption of untreated tap water, boiled water, bottled water, and personally chlorinated water) during the May 1-4 2010 Boston water contamination incident. Most residents received warnings from peers and news media and these warnings mentioned 2.35 of five recommended elements of a warning message—most commonly the threat and the recommended protective action. TV was the most frequent channel for additional information, partly because it was the most frequent channel of routine information, but the Internet was also a common channel for additional information. Consumption of untreated tap water declined, consumption of personally chlorinated water remained negligible, and consumption of boiled water and bottled water increased during the incident. Warning receipt from an authority increased consumption of boiled water, whereas receipt of a less specific warning tended to increase consumption of bottled water. The distribution of warning times followed a logistic (S-shaped) distribution, with the largest increase taking place during prime TV news time (4-6pm). These results call attention to the need to increase the number of comprehensive warning response studies on rapid onset disasters to provide the basis for developing a comprehensive theory that can explain similarities and differences in responses to the full range of environmental hazards.