Situating People, Places, and Peril: Tornado Sheltering during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Authors: Christopher Williams*, University of Florida, Kevin Ash, University of Florida, Julie Demuth, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Paul Kucera, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Rebecca Morss, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Olga Wilhelmi, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Hazards and Vulnerability, Communication
Keywords: tornado, protective action, vulnerability, COVID-19, group sheltering, compound hazards, emergency management
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 7
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Our study investigated how group sheltering and the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic intersect in relation to risk perception and intended behavior for tornado threats. When tornadoes threaten, trusted authorities encourage people living in less sturdy homes to seek shelter at designated public facilities or at sturdier homes of friends and family. As tornado season neared peak climatological frequency of occurrence across the central and eastern United States in 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Medical authorities pleaded for entities to help reduce virus transmission by limiting gathering in large crowds, establishing quarantines, and isolating those diagnosed with COVID-19. In situations where the tornado and COVID-19 hazards coincide, merging the corresponding recommended protective behaviors creates a potential decision-action paradox. Therefore, we statistically analyzed responses from a twenty-state online Qualtrics survey to better understand group sheltering risk perceptions and intended behaviors from resource seekers and providers in the compound hazard intersection. Additionally, we interviewed emergency managers to learn whether and how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted tornado and severe weather sheltering behaviors in communities within the southeastern United States. An example key survey finding highlights how respondents perceive comprehensive risk reduction communication coming from official public channels as lacking clarity. Given the recency of the tornado and COVID-19 risk intersection, the analysis findings may offer relevant insight to trusted authorities in the weather forecast and warning system as they adapt in areas like risk communication and emergency shelter operations.

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