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Degree Name

DrPH (Doctor of Public Health)


Public Health

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Dr. Robert Pack

Committee Members

Dr. Christopher Gregg, Dr. Joel Hillhouse


Near-field tsunamis are a type of natural hazard that provide at-risk individuals with short warning periods that can severely hinder effective response. The Protection Action Decision Model (PADM) is an established theoretical framework that has been used to describe human response to natural hazards. Variables from the PADM have been used to understand individual and household responses during hazards such as hurricanes and floods but seldom for tsunamis. This study surveyed 300 adult American Samoan survivors of the September 29, 2009, Mw 8.1 South Pacific earthquake and tsunami. The primary objectives were to use variables from the PADM to: a) determine the relative importance of determinants of threat perception, b) examine tsunami survivors’ ratings of 4 social stakeholder groups regarding tsunami knowledge, trustworthiness of source of information, and protection responsibility, and c) establish whether household characteristics such as distance to shoreline, household income, and family size were situational impediments to response. Study findings showed that ground motion from the earthquake was found to be the strongest predictor of threat perception. Respondents rated themselves higher than officials and media for the 3 stakeholder characteristics. Occupational status had the most apparent effect on stakeholder perceptions. Those who reported being employed were more likely to have higher mean ratings across the social stakeholder groups for most characteristics. Respondents living closer to the shoreline and having an income of ≥ $15,000 proved to be slightly more likely to evacuate. Overall, findings suggest that the people of American Samoa displayed a remarkable response to the earthquake by evacuating upon feeling the ground shaking. Thousands of people were in the inundation zone but only 34 died, even though the first wave arrived onshore in as little as 15 minutes. The adaptive response during this event is frequently attributed to the success of recent educational outreach conducted in the months and week just prior to the event but other factors may also be important. This research represents a novel study that examines various aspects of tsunami evacuation behavior for a near-field tsunami using the PADM with a population outside of the contiguous 50 states.

Document Type

Dissertation - restricted


Copyright by the authors.