Natech or Natural?

An Analysis of Hazard Perceptions, Institutional Trust, and Future Storm Worry Following Hurricane Harvey

Published in: Natural Hazards (2020). doi: 10.1007/s11069-020-03953-6

Posted on RAND.org on May 19, 2020

by Tim Slack, Vanessa Parks, Lynsay Ayer, Andrew M. Parker, Melissa L. Finucane, Rajeev Ramchand

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Researchers have traditionally conceptualized hazards that give rise to disasters as "natural" or "technological." An extensive literature has documented differential social consequences based on this distinction, including the emergence of corrosive community dynamics in the context of technological disasters. There is also growing recognition that many disasters can be conceptualized as "natech"—processes characterized by a combination of natural and technological hazards. On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall along the central Texas Gulf Coast, causing catastrophic flooding and extensive releases of industrial toxins. We examined variation in institutional trust and future storm worry in the aftermath of Harvey, paying special attention to differences between those who viewed the disaster as being primarily natech and natural. Drawing on the Survey of Trauma, Resilience, and Opportunity in Neighborhoods in the Gulf, we analyzed two waves of cohort panel data collected from households on the Texas Gulf Coast in 2016 and 2018 (before and after Hurricane Harvey). Our findings showed that those who perceived Harvey as natech (compared to natural) were significantly more likely to distrust major institutional actors and be worried about the impacts of future storms, even after accounting for pre-hurricane characteristics. Implications for community dynamics and future research are then discussed.

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