Protection or Peril of Following the Crowd in a Pandemic-Concurrent Flood Evacuation

Elisa Borowski, Amanda Stathopoulos*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The decisions of whether and how to evacuate during a climate disaster are influenced by a wide range of factors, including emergency messaging, social influences, and sociodemographics. Further complexity is introduced when multiple hazards occur simultaneously, such as a flood evacuation taking place amid a viral pandemic that requires physical distancing. Such multihazard events can necessitate a nuanced navigation of competing decision-making strategies wherein a desire to follow peers is weighed against contagion risks. To better understand these trade-offs, we distributed an online survey during a COVID-19 pandemic surge in July 2020 to 600 individuals in three midwestern and three southern states in the United States with high risk of flooding. In this paper, we estimate a random parameter discrete choice model in both preference space and willingness-to-pay space. The results of our model show that the directionality and magnitude of the influence of peers' choices of whether and how to evacuate vary widely across respondents. Overall, the decision of whether to evacuate is positively impacted by peer behavior, while the decision of how to evacuate (i.e., ride-type selection) is negatively impacted by peer influence. Furthermore, an increase in flood threat level lessens the magnitude of peer impacts. In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic impacts, respondents who perceive it to be a major health risk are more reluctant to evacuate, but this effect is mitigated by increased flood threat level. These findings have important implications for the design of tailored emergency messaging strategies and the role of shared rides in multihazard evacuations. Specifically, emphasizing or deemphasizing the severity of each threat in a multihazard scenario may assist in: (1) encouraging a reprioritization of competing risk perceptions; and (2) magnifying or neutralizing the impacts of social influence, thereby (3) nudging evacuation decision-making toward a desired outcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4022045
JournalNatural Hazards Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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