Editorial: Stay or go?

When a natural disaster — such as a hurricane or blizzard — is bearing down, each of us has a decision to make. Should I stay or should I go?
As Superstorm Sandy threatened Connecticut in 2012, people living along the shore received a mandatory evacuation order. Most did not comply.
To understand why, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication surveyed 1,130 people who live along Connecticut’s coastline. The resulting report provides insights into who would be most likely to leave and how they make a decision to go or stay behind and try to ride out the storm.
The results:

  • The First Out (21%) will evacuate for any hurricane.

  • The Constrained (14%) would like to evacuate, but face barriers to leaving.

  • The Optimists (16%) are doubtful a hurricane will ever hit them, but will evacuate if necessary.

  • The Reluctant (27%) will leave only if ordered to do so.

  • The Diehards (22%) are confident they can ride out the storm and won’t evacuate.

Respondents who say they would be unwilling to evacuate are often driven by the impulse to protect their property; many express concern that leaving their homes during a weather emergency will leave their property vulnerable to looting or more severe damage. People in these groups also tend to be better prepared, with generators and pre-packaged food on hand.
Many who say they would leave immediately do not want to get stuck in their homes. They also tend to be concerned about putting rescuers at risk.
Four of the five groups are much more likely to leave their homes if local officials — particularly police or fire officials — tell them to do so.
The report indicates the most effective way to get people to evacuate is to have police or firefighters call or knock on the door. Even then, the “Diehards” most likely would not leave.
Forcing police and firefighters to go door-to-door to convince people to leave is incredibly selfish and a waste of public resources. Don’t be a Diehard. When faced with a potentially life-threatening weather event, be on the safe side. Leave if told to do so. Then come back and enjoy your generator-powered electricity.
This research was funded by NOAA’s Sea Grant Coastal Storm Awareness Program, administered by the Sea Grant programs in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, which aims to improve public awareness and understanding during hazardous coastal events.