Guam Survey Investigates Local Perceptions of Vulnerability to Storms and Climate Change

PIFSC social scientist Dawn Kotowicz recently presented initial results from a survey designed to assess local perceptions of vulnerability to storms and climate change on Guam. The presentation was made in Guam at the Coastal Vulnerability Assessment Workshop, attended by elected officials, disaster planners, natural resource managers, fishermen, and members of the general public from across the island. The workshop was held in conjunction with the Regional Island Sustainability Conference, convened 15-16 April 2014.

Funded by the NOAA Coastal Storms Program (CSP), the survey research undertaken by Kotowicz and collaborating partner Laura Biggs of the University of Guam Sea Grant College aimed to: (1) aid in assessing local vulnerability to coastal storms and hazards; (2) identify potential gaps in an all-hazards approach to disaster resilience, and (3) facilitate development of plans for village-based participation in the regional disaster planning process. The overall intent of the CSP is to improve the quality of life in coastal regions by minimizing threats posed by storms and storm-related hazards.

Frequency of use of disaster-related information sources on Guam.
Frequency of use of disaster-related information sources on Guam.

Kotowicz and Biggs developed their survey in response to concerns expressed by regional disaster planners that Guam residents are not sufficiently aware of the risks associated with storms and other climate-related threats common to the region. Part of this concern stems from the fact that Guam has not been significantly impacted by a climatic event since Super Typhoon Pongsona struck the island in 2002, and because the many persons who have recently moved to the island have not experienced storms of such magnitude in their lifetimes. Notably, Super Typhoon Pongsona generated sustained winds of 144 mph on Guam, with gusts to 173 mph. The storm caused the sinking or grounding of a number of vessels and total damages are thought to have exceeded $700 million.

Four hundred face-to-face surveys were undertaken with Guam residents between January and April 2014 concerning coastal hazards. The sampling approach was designed to account for geographic and demographic variability around the island, including that associated with extensive military holdings and personnel in the northern region, the mixed urban-rural nature of the central region, and the largely rural and heavily marine resource-dependent communities of the southern region.

Data on local perceptions of vulnerability to storms and climate change were collected in 400 face-to-face surveys in Guam.
Data on local perceptions of vulnerability to storms and climate change were collected in 400 face-to-face surveys in Guam.

Of the 400 persons who responded to the survey, only five percent reported that their households had not been affected by a natural hazard in the past. The vast majority of respondents had indeed been impacted, with ocean storms the most commonly reported problem. Most reported receiving news of impending weather threats via radio and television.

With regard to hazard disaster relief, 33 percent of survey respondents stated that they had received assistance from governmental and non-governmental disaster aid programs, with assistance typically received from remote sources such as FEMA and local sources such as the village mayor's office.

The survey also assessed resident's perceptions about climate change and its potential impacts on their home island. Roughly 75 percent of persons responding to the survey reported their belief that Guam's climate had changed over the past ten years, with most respondents asserting that the local climate had warmed and that fewer typhoons than normal had occurred during the period.