When it comes to evacuating from a hurricane’s path, some residents believe they have no choice but to stay.

Yesterday, I posted on social media a story about a son who swam half a mile through flooded streets to save his wheelchair-bound mom. An 84-year-old woman. She was trapped in water from Hurricane Ian.

We’re told that she refused to leave.

Well this decision wasn’t a good one. She called her son panicking as the water rushed into her home.

He says he had no choice but to set off and save her.

This woman’s story… unfortunately… isn’t unique. Officials say so far more than 2,000 residents have been rescued and evacuated from flooded areas in Florida.

While this statistic doesn’t shock me, the comments on this social media post did. Some said it’s her fault and that she should have left.

Now that I’ve worked in a hurricane prone area for more than 15 years, I hear from viewers every hurricane season. Some say they will leave with no matter how mild the storm threat is. Others say there’s no way they will leave their home.

And I refuse to judge either way.

While I want everyone to evacuate if an evacuation is ordered, I also understand the desire to stay. I’m not saying that I agree with staying… please let me very clear on that.

When covering any storm, my main goal is to keep everyone safe.

But study after study has been done on why people don’t leave. So it’s now our job to figure out how to get the message out.

If we’re told to leave… then please go.

The following is from a recent article from NPR.

Whether it’s first responders, people working in animal shelters, those with disabilities or people with a language barrier, the reality is often far more complicated for those who can’t easily get up and evacuate to safety.

“Evacuation is not as easy as it may seem if you are outside of the evacuation area,” said Cara Cuite, an assistant extension specialist in the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University.

Cuite, who has studied evacuation decisions people made during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, says it’s not as simple as one may think when you’re not in the moment.

“It’s easy to think: Of course, people should just pack and leave,” she said. “But for people with disabilities, those with pets or simply [if] you don’t have a car or enough money on hand to leave, that can make it really challenging.”

Depending on a family’s financial situation, evacuating away from a storm can be costly.

“Many modest-to-low income households simply don’t have the cash or credit,” said Joshua Behr, research professor at Old Dominion University, in a 2018 interview with NPR.

“When they return home they have difficulty paying the rent or mortgage,” he added.

Behr emphasized that the poorest may often wait until the last minute to evacuate, resulting in little to no availability for affordable hotel rooms.

“When you go through that cycle once or twice, you’re more skeptical,” he added. “There’s sense of storm fatigue. You tend to wait and see.”

And who in the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry can relate to this????

The most recent evacuation was Hurricane Dorian. The storm did hardly anything to our area. A little rain. A little wind.

The overwhelming voice I heard from viewers was… why did I leave? Or I won’t go again.

And my response… no two storms are alike. We might not get as lucky next time.

The reality is… emotional memory fades fast.

Psychologically, it can be hard to imagine the gravity of what a natural disaster causes. Even for those who have lived through a hurricane, it’s hard to recall how bad it actually was. (Robert Meyer, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania and co-director of Wharton’s Risk Management and Decision Processes Center.)

People will remember facts about hurricanes but what fades from memory fastest is the emotional memory, he says. The horrors of experiencing water damage. Over the years, the memory of that pain fades, and it’s the pain that would cause you take action.

It’s hard for people to imagine their house underwater. One keeps the fear of reality at bay. Especially when the reality is evacuation, something that can be inconvenient and expensive.

People also are just naturally optimistic.

“We are prone to an optimism bias in that bad things are going to happen to other people and not to ourselves in particular,” Meyer says.

Finally. There is comfort in knowing you’ll be with someone else.

When others aren’t evacuating either and getting together to drink instead, that optimism increases. It can cause something called the herding effect.

“Even if your neighbor doesn’t know any more than you do, there is some comfort in knowing you’ll be with someone else,” he says.

Studying why we do what we do isn’t anything new. Hurricane Evacuation Behavior has been studied thoroughly.

In one study conducted by Florida State University, they looked at hurricanes from 1961 to 1989 in almost every state from Massachusetts to Texas. The resulting database is larger than that for any other hazard, and many generalizations are feasible concerning factors accounting for variation in response to hurricane threats.

Evacuation rates vary from place to place in the same hurricane and from storm to storm in the same place.

In some locations, almost everyone left while in other locations within the warning area, half or less of the population evacuated.

Most residents who feel unsafe staying where they are during a storm tend to leave, and those who feel safe tend to stay.

Also mentioned frequently are evacuation notices from public officials or their representatives. These notices serve in many cases to convince people that the situation is dangerous, but some residents probably respond because they tend to be obedient to authority figures or thing there is a legal penalty for noncompliance. Still others say they leave because of appeals from friends and relatives.

When stayers are asked why they didn’t evacuate, they offer a variety of explanations in addition to saying they felt safe where they were.

Three reasons cited frequently for not evacuating are that responders wanted to stay behind to protect their property from the storm, protect their property from looters, or fulfill obligations to their employer.

Occasionally, stayers indicate that peer pressure from neighbors who didn’t evacuate impeded their own leaving.

There is also the overall inconvenience or effort involved in getting out ~ gathering things to take, arranging for a place to stay, providing for pets, fighting the traffic and enduring the discomfort.


So now that Hurricane Ian is gone… we will now look at the severity of the storm… we will study why some chose to stay and some chose to go… and we will look at why some evacuation orders were called and why others were not.

In many cases, this is already happening.

(sources: NPR, Twitter, Florida State University, Getty Images and NBC)