Coastal Homeowner Adaptation to a Changing Climate: A Study of Risk Awareness, Risk Reduction, and Resilience

ND-GAIN Investigators: Debra Javeline (Department of Political Science) & Tracy Kijewski-Correa (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences)
Implementing Partner: Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS)
In order to maximize the potential for successful implementation and adoption of the research findings by stakeholders in coastal communities, this proposal links an interdisciplinary research team operating at the intersection of engineering and political science with the implementing partner, IBHS. This non-profit organization conducts objective, scientific research to identify and promote effective actions that strengthen human habitats against climate hazards. IBHS brings not only pre-existing relationships to local stakeholders for this study, but can serve as a critical gateway to others throughout the coastal US ripe to become ND‐GAIN stakeholders in the future.
The investigators and implementing partner are seeking to launch a multi-site survey that tests propositions in places that vary by historical exposure to major hurricanes, experience with the effects of sea level rise, median income, partisanship, and other factors. The current proposal will enable a pilot study in New Hanover, North Carolina, that will then be leveraged for external support for the larger project. New Hanover has one of the highest exposure rates to hurricanes, experiencing 46 hurricanes in the last 150 years, 12 of which were major. If any coastal community in the United States should be aware of increasing risks from climate-driven hazards and sea level rise, it is New Hanover, so if homeowners are unaware or unwilling to adapt accordingly, we can reasonably assume that other communities are probably as unprepared or less so. Importantly, New Hanover is a diverse community economically (median income $49,835) and politically (51.7% voted Republican in the 2012 election), allowing us to test preliminary hypotheses about socioeconomic and political variables in adaptation decisions. The project has five primary tasks, which will be described briefly:
►Task 1 - Case Study Development:  The project will launch with the development of a detailed case study that will aggregate existing data sources to provide sociopolitical and natural hazard risk context. As part of this process, community resilience will be quantified for the pilot study region using two composite indicators at fine scales suitable for future downscaling efforts of ND-GAIN (Cutter et al. 2010; Lam et al. 2016). The case study will carefully document the time period leading up to the administration of the survey to identify potentially biasing factors.
►Task 2 – Survey Design: The Coastal Homeowner Survey will be developed in collaboration with IBHS and will include batteries of questions identified as key resilience indicators (Masten and Obradovic 2008; Longstaff and Yang 2008; Leykin et al. 2013; Sherrieb et al. 2010). It will develop new questions to measure the homeowner’s asset condition and value, hazard exposure, structural vulnerability, residential risk reduction, residential risk reduction awareness, community risk reduction awareness, efficacy judgments, multi-criteria decision making, information channels, social networks, political attitudes and behavior, and demographics. One of three established firms, recognized for methodological rigor, will moderate focus groups to further inform the survey design (see Budget Justification). This will ensure that the planned survey questions are clear, comprehensible, and answerable for average homeowners. Focus group transcripts will also act as a descriptive supplement for interpreting the aggregate data.
►Task 3 – Survey Administration: The selected firm will then administer the survey using a randomized address-based target sample of 6,000 for a likely achieved sample of approximately 1,000 residents who self-identify as the primary decision makers in their homes. Address-based sampling using the U.S. Postal Service’s Delivery Sequence File will ensure the most complete universe of addresses in our pilot study zone and enable precision targeting of homeowners in zones closest to the coastline. Reminder postcards and incentives will be used to achieve the desired 6:1 yield. The large achieved sample size for a relatively small population will instill high confidence in our results. The anticipated margin of error is under 3%.
Task 4 – Data Analysis & Profile Development: The resulting survey data will be weighted to Census estimates in each region, minimally by age, education, gender, and race/ethnicity. The team will then test hypotheses about which conditions increase the probability that vulnerable homeowners will translate risk information into adaptation actions and the role of incentives in this process. As the survey questions will measure key variables most influencing resilience to climate hazards, responses from individual households can be directly mapped to community resilience indicators.
Task 5 – Stakeholder Engagement: These analyses will then enable the development of homeowner profiles in collaboration with the communications team at IBHS. The profiles will outline which conditions most influence adaptation actions for various homeowner demographics, including the optimal communication channels and incentive structures. These will then be presented to the local stakeholder, the North Carolina Joint Underwriting Authority and IBHS leadership through structured activities that identify how these homeowner profiles and resilience indicators can be leveraged to improve uptake of their adaptation programming.