Relative Risk Perception for Terrorism: Implications for Preparedness and Risk Communication

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Abstract:

Terrorism presents a significant risk that is often approached at public policy, infrastructure, or emergency management level. Public perceptions of the likelihood of terrorist events, and how this may relate to individual preparedness, are not always extensively examined. The tendency to think that negative events are less likely to happen to oneself than to the average person is known as optimism bias. Optimism bias is relevant to perceptions of terrorism, because it is thought to be related to a reduction in precaution use. Using an online survey of 164 participants, this study aimed to determine whether Sydney residents thought they had a lower likelihood of experiencing terrorist events than other Australians. Significant optimism bias was observed for witnessing terrorist events, but not for personally experiencing terrorist events. In addition, Sydney residents tended to think that terrorist attacks were more likely to occur in Sydney than another major Australian city in the next five years. At the same time, household and workplace preparedness for terrorism was quite low, as was awareness of emergency strategies in the central business district. Perceptions of high likelihood of terrorism happening in one's own city, yet low preparedness present a challenge for risk communication and emergency management strategies. The diversity of possible terrorist targets, and the simple plans that can moderate the effects of a disaster may need to be emphasized in future anti‐terrorism initiatives.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2011.01784.x

Publication date: September 1, 2012

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