The vulnerability of communities at risk from volcanic activity at Volcan Tungurahua, Ecuador and Mount Rainier in the USA provided the focus for this thesis. The research aimed to develop an integrated approach to risk assessments that combined both hazard and vulnerability analysis. In phase one, the study developed a novel methodology to assess volcanic threat that utilised previously published data. This semi-quantitative approach integrated measures of both hazard and exposure factors, allowing the relative threat to different communities to be ranked. By avoiding the complex quantitative analysis associated with traditional risk assessments of the multiple hazards associated with volcanic activity, this methodology may be applied where comprehensive historic and geological data may be lacking, as well as facilitating understanding amongst non-specialists and members of the public. The second phase of the research investigated human vulnerability, with an exploratory study carried out in Ecuador. This utilised a questionnaire survey aimed at eliciting an individual’s beliefs and attitudes towards volcanic risk, which provided the basis for a more comprehensive exploration of social vulnerability conducted in the USA. This investigated further the role of socio-economic features and psychological characteristics, such as risk perception, hazard salience and self-efficacy, in promoting self-protective behaviour, and examined the relative importance of these factors in determining vulnerability. The theoretical underpinnings of this research suggest that individuals with certain socio-economic characteristics may incur greater losses during a disaster, whilst perceptual processes may influence how an individual responds to a hazardous event. Little evidence was found to support the socio-economic model of vulnerability, which prevented the integration of the two research phases. However, perceptual factors were found to be significant predictors in the adoption of protective hazard adaption. This suggests that targeting risk mitigation and communication strategies to address these psychological constructs may be more important for reducing overall vulnerability than focusing efforts towards specific socio-economic groups.

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