Risk Perception

“Evaluation is a methodological area that is closely related to, but distinguishable from more traditional social research. Evaluation utilizes many of the same methodologies used in traditional social research, but because evaluation takes place within a political and organizational context, it requires group skills, management ability, political dexterity, sensitivity to multiple stakeholders and other skills that social research in general does not rely on as much.” [1]



Los Angeles County recently installed tsunami danger zone traffic signs at the beaches in Marina del Rey, Venice, Santa Monica and Malibu. Newspapers have reported many controversial statements about these signs – such as “it scared my kids” and “the signs may lower property values.” [2] [3] [4] In fact, the sign design got quite a lot of attention [5] and were often stolen for personal use.

Tsunami_hazard_zone_signTsunami signage was still in the experimental phase in Los Angeles county, I investigated the effectiveness of the visual communication of these signs. I hypothesized that many of the survey takers would be unaffected by the signs’ presence, be unaware of the signs and may not even know the causes of a tsunami or how to detect a tsunami event in progress.


This began as a side project and later became my Masters thesis topic. I self-funded the project.


Toni Rosati – Lead Researcher
Chelsea Cullen – Research Assistant
Nick Cesaro – Data Collector
Angela Rosati – Data Collector


Redwood Coast Tsunami Working Group, Humboldt State University, Humboldt County, Mendicino County, CalEMA, USGS, Weather And Society*Integrated Studies, NOAA, FEMA, COMET, University Consortium for Atmospheric Research, Santa Monica College

Lori Dengler, Troy Nicolini, Amanda Admire, Kate Long

This work has been presented at:

American Meteorological Society, National Weather Association, Natural Hazards Workshop, National Flood Workshop, American Geophysical Union, UCLA Conference on Public Health and Disaster, International Research Council on Disaster and others.

Process, Research Design

We tested the internal validity of the survey tool through contextual inquiry – giving the survey and simultaneously collecting data about how the subject understood the survey. Also, some data collection occurred  right near a traffic sign we were testing.

The survey consisted of 22 likert scale questions that assessed knowledge and opinions of tsunamis in the area, 4 multiple choice questions about preparedness and reactions, and one qualitative awareness question. The survey was administered to 147 respondents in the Santa Monica and Venice vicinity of Los Angeles.

Key Findings

Our findings do not agree with the newspaper reports. Over a year after installation, most surveyed do not know about or recognize the tsunami signs. More alarming is that many did not believe a tsunami could occur in the area.

Many are expecting to be warned in ways that are not currently set up (texting, sirens) or are simply impossible (newspaper).


The initial research project got me hired to do a Geographic Information Systems project for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It was my responsibility to create inundation maps for three counties in northern California that would be compatible with their new Reverse 911 calling system. This included working with and training emergency management officials in each jurisdiction. The project was complete in February 2011 and was used for the major Tohoku Tsunami event that occurred on March 11, 2011.


first tsunami posterThe first research findings from this project





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