Carnegie Mellon University
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Explorations of Adaptive Resource Use and Technology Choice: Individual and Institutional Perspectives

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posted on 2023-03-13, 19:01 authored by Emily WellsEmily Wells

This thesis aims to explore the environmental factors, resources, and psycho-social considerations associated with the adaptive capacity of individuals and organizations facing chronic and/or compounding threats. The uncertainty, complexity, and occasional novelty of complex and compound threats may necessitate adaptive capacity and adaptive decision-making at the individual and organizational levels. Adaptive capacity is defined as processes, actions, or outcomes in a system that facilitate coping, managing, and adjusting to changing conditions, stressors, or hazards. For both individuals and organizations, built and natural environmental conditions can influence vulnerability and adaptive capacity. This thesis explores the intersection of adaptive capacity and enacted adaptive decision-making and behaviors by considering both internal barriers and external stressors that challenge the willingness and ability to adapt to current threat landscapes. Adaptive capacity and adaptive decision-making are contingent on a variety of factors internal and external to individuals and organizations, such as knowledge and concern about threats and vulnerabilities, the willingness and ability to engage in proactive behaviors, and the capacity to change existing behaviors (i.e., emergent technology use). Examples of adaptive capacity assessed in the current thesis include individual-level use of multi-modal, sustainable transportation modes (Chapter 1), compound threat management strategies and constraints (i.e., incident prioritization, availability and use of emergent technology adoption, use of decision support tools) (Chapter 2), and compound threat resource allocation (Chapter 3). Both quantitative and qualitative data are used to assess adaptive capacity, including quantitative surveys, qualitative data from semi-structured interviews, and quantitative historical data records of natural hazards. This thesis emphasized the relationship between adaptive capacity and resource availability, particularly in the context of chronic and/or compound threats. Findings across the three analytical chapters suggest that the availability of and access to resources alone is insufficient in capturing individual and organizational adaptive behavior. In addition to tangible resources, psycho-social factors such as personal experience, competing objectives, and risk perception and communication can constraint adaptive capacity. Chapters 2 and 3 focus on challenges presented by a variety of compounding threats, which are anticipated to increase in frequency, severity, and complexity moving forward. Overall, results focus on U.S. adaptive capacity of communities and federal hazard management agencies, who serve to help communities prepare for, respond to, recover from, and adapt to stressors and disruptions in the natural and built environments. Findings from Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 suggest that it is critical to support the essential hazard management workforce to adapt to compound threat events, particularly given the resource constraints and mental health concerns discussed in Chapter 2 and resource use implications presented in Chapter 3. 




Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • Engineering and Public Policy

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mitchell Small and Gabrielle Wong-Parodi