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Despite Last Year's Devastating Hurricane Season, One-Third In High-Risk Areas Say They May Ignore Evacuation Order

According to a new survey of high-risk hurricane areas in eight states--Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas--conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security, one-third (33%) of residents said if government officials said they had to evacuate due to a major hurricane this season, they would not or are unsure if they would leave. Homeowners (39%), whites (41%) and long-term residents (45%) are the groups most likely to ride out a major hurricane. People with children under 18 are less likely to remain in their homes (26%). Mobile home owners are no more likely to evacuate than the general public.

The top reasons people give for not evacuating involve concerns about safety and security. More than two-thirds (68%) say their home is well-built and they would be safe there. Just over half (54%) feel that roads would be too crowded, and one in three (36%) feels that evacuating would be dangerous. Close to one-third (31%) worry that their possessions would be stolen or damaged.

“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,” said Robert J. Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. “In addition, most of those who plan on staying believe they would be rescued if they needed to be.”

Results for individual states are available upon request.

Challenges for African-Americans

Contrary to the images people might have from Hurricane Katrina, African-Americans are less likely than whites to say they would stay in their homes if government officials said they had to leave in the event of a major hurricane (23% versus 41%). The top reason for both African-Americans and whites for not evacuating is that they feel their homes would be safe (78% versus 71%).

But those African-Americans who are uncertain they will leave their homes are more likely than whites to cite lack of resources and safety concerns as reasons for staying. African-Americans are more than three times as likely as whites to lack transportation (29% versus 9%) or to have a physical or medical problem that makes it difficult to leave (35% versus 10%). They are nearly three times as likely to say they cannot afford to leave (41% versus 15%) and over twice as likely to say they might not evacuate because they do not know where to go (34% versus 14%). African-Americans are almost twice as likely as whites to say that they might not evacuate because it is dangerous to do so (60% versus 33%).

Confidence In Being Rescued Or Helped

Most people believe that they would get help if they needed it during a major hurricane. Two-thirds (66%) are confident that they would be rescued if they were unable to evacuate and needed help. This sense of confidence is particularly prevalent among those who do not intend to evacuate (75%). Most people also feel they can rely a lot or some on their immediate neighbors should they need help (73%).

“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,” said Professor Blendon.

Evacuation and Shelter Conditions

If residents of high-risk hurricane areas have to evacuate because of a major hurricane, few plan to go to a shelter. Only 12% of potential evacuees say they would go to a shelter, but another one in ten (11%) do not yet know where they would go. Most would stay with family or friends (56%); 18% intend to go to a hotel. A majority would go more than 100 miles from their homes, with 36% travelling more than 200 miles.

Although few plan to go to an evacuation shelter, most would be concerned about what conditions would be like if they had to go to one. More than two-thirds (67%) would be worried about their safety and shelter conditions. The biggest worries people have is that shelters would be unsanitary (79%), they would be exposed to sick people (71%), there wouldn’t be enough clean water to drink (70%), the shelter would be too crowded (67%), medical care would be lacking (66%), and they would be threatened by violence (61%).

Hurricane Preparations

Many residents of hurricane-prone areas have not made critical preparations for a major storm. Hurricane Katrina showed that families can get separated and communication can break down in the aftermath of a major storm, but most residents have not prepared for that possibility. Nearly two in three (63%) have not agreed on a meeting place if their family is separated, and one in two (49%) have not agreed on a phone number outside the region that family members could call. Of those who have a household member with a chronic illness or disability requiring help to evacuate, 40% do not have that help lined up.

Forty percent do not have $300 in cash ready to take with them if they need to evacuate. Nearly one in three (29%) do not have enough drinking water for each family member for three days if they are unable to leave. Of those taking prescription drugs, 37% do not have a three-week supply in case of an emergency. Nearly one in four (23%) do not have a first-aid kit in the house.


This is the 24th in a series of studies by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security. The study was designed and analyzed by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The project director is Robert J. Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health. The research team also includes John M. Benson, Tami Buhr and Kathleen J. Weldon of the Harvard School of Public Health, and Melissa J. Herrmann of ICR/International Communications Research. Fieldwork was conducted via telephone for the Project by ICR/International Communications Research of Media (PA) between July 5 and 11, 2006.

The survey was conducted with a representative sample of 2,029 non-institutionalized adults ages 18 and over in high hurricane risk counties in eight states. Survey participants included residents of all counties within 50 miles of the coast in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. Approximately 250 interviews were conducted in each state. The results were weighted to represent the total adult population in the high hurricane risk counties of the region as a whole. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Possible sources of nonsampling error include nonresponse bias, as well as question wording and ordering effects. Nonresponse in telephone surveys produces some known biases in survey-derived estimates because participation tends to vary for different subgroups of the population. To compensate for these known biases, sample data are weighted to the most recent Census data available from the Current Population Survey for gender, age, race, education, as well as number of adults and number of telephone lines in the household. Other techniques, including random-digit dialing, replicate subsamples, callbacks staggered over times of day and days of the week, and systematic respondent selection within households, are used to ensure that the sample is representative.

The Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a grant to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). HSPH provides ASTHO and the CDC with technical assistance for public health communication by monitoring the response of the general public to public health threats.

For further information, contact:

Todd Datz

Todd Datz | EurekAlert!
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