Student Profile: Lauren Vinnell
Increasing Individual Natural Hazard Preparation
A bit about me
I was born and raised in Lower Hutt, and so am well aware of the natural hazards Wellington faces. I chose to study psychology as I have always been interested in understanding peoples’ behaviour. In the final year of my Bachelor’s degree, I studied applied social psychology, which uses our understanding of behaviour to improve society, and that interest became a passion. I completed a master’s in Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington, during which my supervisors encouraged me to apply for a PhD scholarship to work on this project. To maintain a work-life balance, I like to take boxing classes (great stress relief!) and spend time with my friends and family (including, of course, my pet cat).
Resilience is a broad concept, with many levels. My work is targeting the base level – resilience of individuals. If individuals are better able to survive, respond, and recover in a disaster, then communities and cities will have a better chance at doing the same. To achieve this, we need to make sure people are prepared before a disaster occurs, including taking actions to help them survive (such as storing food) and to reduce damage (such as strengthening homes). Within Resilience to Nature’s Challenges, I’m part of the Culture team. Natural hazard risk is well-known in Wellington, and New Zealand more broadly, but for us to become resilient to these challenges we need a cultural shift – that is, we need to change the way we think and behave in regards to natural hazard preparation. The aim of my project is to understand why people in Wellington are and are not preparing, and then to use that understanding to test ways to address those reasons and get people preparing more. The first step is to conduct surveys which measure beliefs such as attitudes about the experience and outcomes of preparing, social pressures to prepare, and beliefs about control and capability to prepare. I have completed a preliminary survey, and am using that data to design a follow-up survey.
Once I complete my surveys, I will design and run an intervention. Research in other areas tells us that we can change behaviour with simple messages and tasks, such as goal-setting. Testing these strategies will be a fairly intensive process, and take up the rest of my PhD, which I aim to submit in mid-2020. The main objective of the project is to provide valuable insights and tools for NZ practitioners – who are already doing great work to get people prepared – to make that work more effective and increase individuals’ resilience to natural hazards.