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Hurricane Evacuation: A Third Won't Go

The Atlantic hurricane season is under way, but a new poll shows that up to a third of those living in at-risk areas might not act on evacuation orders.

The poll was conducted earlier this month by Harvard School of Public Health researchers, including Robert Blendon, ScD.

A sense of security at home, concern about evacuation safety, and faith they would be rescued, were the top reasons people cited for possibly staying home.

"It will be a challenge for public officials to convince many of these people to leave their homes, because they view their homes as safe and evacuating as dangerous," Blendon says in a news release. "Despite the disturbing images of people trapped without help after Hurricane Katrina, people in hurricane-prone areas have high expectations that they will be rescued in a future storm."

The poll included 2,029 adults living within 50 miles of the coast in eight states at high risk of hurricanes: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.

Nearly half of those polled had left home because of a hurricane at some point in their lives, and almost as many lived in communities that sustained hurricane damage in 2005.

Respondents were asked if they would leave the area or stay if government officials ordered an evacuation because a major hurricane was expected to hit in the next few days. Most people — 67 percent — said they would follow those orders.

However, one in three indicated they might ignore evacuation orders; 24 percent said they would stay put, and another 9 percent said they weren't sure if they would leave.

Two-thirds of all respondents said they were "very" or "somewhat" confident they would be rescued if they did not leave their home when a major hurricane hit.

Reasons For Reluctance

The poll included extra questions for respondents who said they would stay home or weren't sure if they would follow hurricane evacuation orders and leave. Those people were asked about their reluctance to evacuate. They cited the following reasons:

  • Home is well built/will be safe at home: 68 percent
  • Roads will be too crowded: 54 percent
  • Evacuating will be dangerous: 36 percent
  • Worried that possessions would be stolen/damaged: 31 percent

    The poll also shows that most people who said they would follow evacuation orders would travel at least 100 miles and would stay with friends or family in another area or at a hotel or motel.

    Only 12 percent said they would go to an evacuation center run by the Red Cross or the government. Another 11 percent weren't sure where they would go.

    Prepared Or Not?

    More than three-fourths of those polled said they were "very" or "somewhat" prepared for a major hurricane to strike their community in the next six months.

    But they might not be as prepared as they think.

    The vast majority of people said they had enough food and water for every person in their family for three days, and that they had a flashlight, first aid kit and battery operated radio. However:

  • Nearly two-thirds hadn't agreed on an emergency meeting place for their family.
  • Almost half hadn't picked a phone number outside the area that family members could call to check in after a hurricane.
  • Four in 10 didn't have at least $300 in emergency cash on hand.
  • More than a third of those with a family member who regularly took
    prescription drugs didn't have a three-week supply of those drugs.
  • Nearly three in 10 didn't have a three-day supply of water for everyone in their family.
  • Almost a quarter didn't have a first aid kit.

    Closing those gaps would help prepare for a hurricane or other disaster.

    SOURCES: Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security, "High-Risk Area Hurricane Survey, July 5-11, 2006." News release, Harvard School of Public Health.

    By Miranda Hitti
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D.
    © 2006, WebMD Inc. All rights reserved

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