Changing Planet

After Sandy: How to Convince People to Evacuate

By Rachel Hartigan Shea

Getting people out of a storm’s danger zones is a key step toward preventing loss of life. To find out what experts know about getting the word out, we spoke to Jay Baker, an associate professor of geography at Florida State University.

Why do some people stay in their homes despite warnings to evacuate?

The main reason people don’t evacuate is because they don’t think they need to. They don’t believe the storm is going to hit or it’s not going to be dangerous or they have misconceptions about where their home is [in relation to flood zones] or how well built it is. Or they don’t understand that they have been told to evacuate.

Have there been improvements in getting evacuation information out to people who need it?

I would like to say yes. There is far more information available to people than there used to be: more maps, more places to type in an address to find out what zone they’re in, more automated notification systems, even apps that some communities use specifically for storms. In Charlotte County, Fla., they’ve put reflective colored [bands] on their stop signs. Every zone has a different color. If you live in a neighborhood that has a red color on the stop signs, you will need to evacuate.

How do you get people to heed the evacuation message?

You need to make it mandatory. If you don’t have legal authority to make it mandatory, avoid terms like voluntary. If you have the resources, go door to door. That is by far the best way.

I am a senior writer at National Geographic Magazine. I used to be the book editor for the Washington Post so I especially like to explore books on National Geographic topics.
  • Douglas Westfall

    Read your great piece on Tighar’s return to Niku. How’s piper going to sniff out AE from the 100 islanders who lived there for a quarter of a century?

    Douglas Westfall
    National Historian

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