The Disaster Research Center (DRC) is the first social science research center in the world devoted to the study of disasters. Founded in 1963 at the Ohio State University, the Center is now part of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Delaware and faculty members from the School of Public Policy and Administration, the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice and the Department of Civil Engineering direct Disaster Research Center projects.
Using data from a mail survey and focus group discussions, this paper examines how residents of Alameda County, CA perceive the operational importance of different elements in the built environment in the event of a major earthquake. Survey rankings of individual elements in the built environment indicate that major hospitals, natural gas pipelines, electrical and water pipelines, and public safety buildings are respondents’ most valued elements in terms of continued functionality and operational capacity. Six regression models were run to test whether social demographic variables and earthquake experience had an influence on respondents’ assigned levels to the operational importance of six groupings of systems (utility and transportation) and structures (schools, public safety, residential, and commercial buildings). Women were more likely than men to assign greater levels of operational importance to all six grouping of systems and structures. Also, racial and ethnic minorities were more likely than Whites to assign higher levels of operational importance to transportation systems, schools, and commercial buildings. Finally, increase in age was significantly associated with a decrease in the levels assigned to the operational importance of utility systems and commercial buildings. Focus group data corroborated quantitative results and allowed to explore some issues in more detail.