Should I stay or should I go now?

According to the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southeast Regional Climate Center, Florence “has the potential to be the most destructive hurricane we’ve had in modern history for this region.”

The National Hurricane Center spokesperson said comparing Florence with past storms would be a “fatal mistake,” because it could lead those in its path to underestimate the danger.

Mandatory evacuations are underway in what could be a historic event, yet generally only about 75% of the population intend to go along with with mandatory evacuations. Out of those that intend to evacuate a smaller percentage actually follows through.

During Hurricane Matthew 2.5 million people were told to evacuate in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. In South Carolina, for example, estimates indicate that about 35 percent of residents under evacuation orders actually left their homes. In highly threatened coastal areas around Charleston and Beaufort the rate was about 50 percent.

Why don’t more people evacuate before hurricanes?

Florence, I’m not leaving.

it’s not easy to leave

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner made the controversial decision to tell people to shelter in place, which many regard as the right decision. Evacuation orders typically involve coastal communities of tens of thousands of people. Houston has 6.6 million people. Its roads and rails can’t move that many people.

Even in coastal communities, traffic nightmares, hotels and shelters filled to capacity and long fuel lines make it a miserable option.

cost

About 75 percent of evacuees stay with friends or family. But for those who can’t, the cost of fuel, hotel rooms and lost wages can be overwhelming. One study calculated that evacuating before a Category 3 hurricane would cost a household approximately US$340 to $525.

memory (or cognitive bias)

Cognitive bias shapes the way people think and plan. You think you’re being logical and rational but biases can lead us to make poor decisions. For example, thinking you can weather a storm because you’ve done it before–that’s a cognitive bias that could lead to bad outcomes.

For example:

Been there, done that, the false illusion of having experienced something (I went through Sandy (Category 2)  so I can get through Florence (Category 4 or 5), overconfidence (I’ll keep us safe), or just not getting the new facts (the floodwaters are rising….) and, then, suddenly, you’re defending your position, doubling down, digging in…

That’s cognitive bias working against your ability to think through a plan.

I’m out of here.

danger

Hurricane Sandy death toll: 147

Hurricane Harvey death toll: over 1200

Hurricane Katrina death toll: over 1400

the government provides assistance

The evacuation order (usually by the governor) generally triggers a variety of services in order to “reduce the vulnerability of the people” or to provide for their “care and welfare.” But if the governor then decides that the disaster can’t be handled by the local governments, her or she asks the president for help via the Stafford Act. The president can then declare a major disaster or emergency in the affected area.

the law

Some states, like North Carolina, can slap a fine on anyone who ignores evacuation orders and requires rescue. Some states have passed legislation that allow criminal charges for refusing an evacuation order.

In addition, many states have emergency management acts that give responders immunity in emergency situations so that they are not held responsible for the welfare of someone they are trying to rescue.

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