THE MAGAZINE

Everyone Needs an Exit Strategy

By Laura Spadanuta

The best way to ensure that everyone knows about an evacuation in their area, says Baker, is to go door to door and tell people about it. But that’s not practical for all areas, and it takes a lot of personnel. “The second most effective way, probably, is to drive through neighborhoods with loud speakers. But you have to do it a number of times. And some people still aren’t going to hear it. Their windows are closed, and they’ve got the television on and things like that,” he says. And while social media may reach some people, his research has shown that most people still receive the bulk of their evacuation information from television.

Social media…for hurricane information during a threat is still way, way behind everything else. And it’s hard to convince the emergency management agencies of that. They’re convinced that people rely on social media for hurricane information during a threat a lot more than we find is the case,” Baker says.

Additionally, people often don’t know when the evacuation orders refer to their location, because they don’t know which evacuation zone they are in. In an effort to tackle that problem, Charlotte County, Florida, has added colored bands to neighborhood stop signs in reflective colored tape to indicate storm surge risk. The stop signs near peoples’ homes correspond to their storm surge risk and when they hear, say, “red zone evacuate,” they’ll know whether it’s them or not. “So you don’t have to be able to read a map, and you don’t have to call or go to a Web site to type in an address, which they use in a lot of places,” says Baker. “No one has to knock on your door.”

People also respond differently depending on who issues the order. They are more likely to respond to an evacuation order if it’s issued by a community leader, such as the mayor. Additionally, Baker says that when the message is phrased in a way that makes it appear that the residents don’t have a choice, they’re more likely to leave. An example would be saying “this area is being evacuated,” rather than “authorities recommend that you evacuate.”

Another question is whether people will suffer evacuation fatigue if they live where hurricanes are common. Some are afraid about the “cry wolf” syndrome, meaning they worry that if people obey orders to evacuate and then the hurricane doesn’t hit as hard as had been expected, they’ll be discouraged from evacuating in future events. But Baker says that doesn’t seem to happen. He looked specifically at the case of Panama City, Florida, in 1985. There were three large-scale evacuations in a short amount of time; each time the storm ended up missing the area, and nearly the same percentage of people evacuated for each storm.
 

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