Worldwide, recognition of the growing risk faced by communities in many countries from natural hazard events has stimulated interest in promoting people's capacity to co-exist with often beneficial, but occasionally hazardous, natural processes by encouraging the adoption of preparedness measures. Starting from recognition that levels of hazard preparedness are generally low, this paper examines how people's decisions about hazard mitigation derive from how they interpret the hazards, their relationship with the hazards and the sources of information about hazards. It describes how interpretive processes at the person (outcome expectancy), community (community participation and collective efficacy) and societal (empowerment and trust) level interact to predict levels of hazard preparedness. The data support the argument that the effectiveness of public hazard education strategies community preparedness can be increased by integrating risk management activities with community development strategies. The cross-cultural validity of the model is discussed using data from communities in New Zealand, Indonesia and Japan. Testing the model across countries and hazards (e.g. earthquakes, volcanic hazards) supports its all-hazards and cross-cultural applicability. The theoretical (e.g. identifying the degree to which the processes that underpin how people respond to hazard threats are culturally equivalent) and practical (e.g. providing a common basis for collaborative learning and research between countries and providing risk management agencies in different cultures with access to a wider range of risk management options) implications of the cross-cultural equivalence of the model are discussed.