First Advisor

Jerry Lansdowne

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies


Urban Studies and Planning




Land use -- Alaska -- Anchorage -- Decision making -- Case studies, Risk perception -- Alaska -- Anchorage -- Case studies, Courthouses -- Alaska -- Anchorage



Physical Description

3, ix, 365 leaves: ill. 28 cm.


Many lives and much property are lost in disasters when individuals and communities choose to ignore information which could mitigate the potential disaster. This case study examines community and individual decision processes and rationale which led to construction of a high-occupancy high-rise courthouse on land designated as high risk after the 1964 Alaska earthquake. The study reviews policy and decision making, psychology, and risk management literature to explore the psychological mechanisms and processes of hazard mitigation decisions.

It questions why individuals and communities choose not to mitigate when they have the information which makes risk mitigation possible. The hypothesis theorizes risk-based cultural dissociation and submits that individuals and society process risk-related information in a manner that allows for interpretation and acknowledgement of information so that it is compatible with individual and social agendas and constructs. Society and individuals can and do completely deny or dissociate from risk-related information.

This exploratory research uses macro, meso, and micro levels of analysis to examine the environmental setting, land ownership and power, and professional and public seismic information. This examination is placed in the context of Anchorage's post-earthquake reconstruction momentum.

Indepth interviews with elected officials, a bank president, insurance executives, investors, builders, appointed officials, private and public professionals, court representatives, a judge, a juror, and citizens provide insight into risk perception and individual and community agendas. The interviews revealed each level of analysis had different perceptions of risk and different agendas.

Professional warnings not to reconstruct on high-risk land were ignored. Downtown economic interests and powerful individuals significantly impacted the community decision process. One charismatic leader played a major role in the community reconstruction and courthouse decisions.

Research findings support the hypothesis. Individuals consistently chose to deny earthquake potential in their daily lives. Selective interpretation of information allowed individuals to support their own agendas. Community decision processes allowed deletion of important information and a transference of responsibility, resulting in no decision body or individual feeling responsible for the decision. Risk-based cultural dissociation is defined and presented in this research as a direction for future study.


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