Science & Tech

Survey of hurricane preparedness finds one-third on high risk coast will refuse evacuation order

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Most New Orleans residents do not know location of evacuation shelters

Thirty-one percent of residents surveyed in coastal areas said they wouldn’t evacuate in the face of a major hurricane, even if told to do so by the government, according to a new survey of people in high-risk hurricane areas conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security. This is an increase from 2006 when 23% said they would not evacuate. 

The survey was conducted in eight states—Alabama, Florida, Georgia,
Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas—and
only included residents of counties within 20 miles of the coast. The
poll included a special sample of the New Orleans metropolitan area.

The top reasons people give for not evacuating involve issues of
safety and security. Three-quarters (75%) say their home is well-built
and they would be safe there. Over half (56%) feel that roads would be
too crowded, and slightly more than one in three (36%) feels that
evacuating would be dangerous. One-third (33%) worry that their
possessions would be stolen or damaged while one in four (27%) say they
would not evacuate because they do not want to leave their pets.

“Public officials need to be concerned that the further we get from
the severe hurricanes of 2005, the less willing people are to
evacuate,” said Robert Blendon,
Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School
of Public Health. “Officials need to remind people that many homes are
vulnerable to major storms. They also need to ensure safe evacuation
routes are available and the public is aware of them.”

These findings are based on interviews conducted June 18 – July 10,
2007 with 5,046 adults in high hurricane risk counties in eight states.

The complete survey and charts with figures are available here

Individual state data here

The results of this survey will be distributed to state and local officials for use in emergency planning.

Evacuation and Shelter Conditions
If residents of
high-risk hurricane areas have to evacuate because of a major
hurricane, most would be concerned about the conditions of evacuation
shelters if they had to go to one. The biggest worries people have are
that shelters would be unsanitary (68%), there wouldn’t be enough clean
water to drink (66%), the shelter would be too crowded (65%), they
would be exposed to sick people (62%), and medical care would be
lacking (58%).

Hurricane Preparations
Many residents of
hurricane-prone areas have not made critical preparations for a major
storm. If running water were cut off due to a hurricane, one in four
(23%) would run out of clean water after two days, and over half (54%)
would run out after six days. If power were shut off, one in ten (9%)
would be without food after two days, and nearly half (44%) after six

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. Two in three
(66%) 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 intend to evacuate
and need help to do so (13%), half (50%) do not have that help lined up.

Key Preparedness Information
Past experience with
hurricanes has identified some critical information that people should
know in order to be prepared for a storm. Many residents of high-risk
areas were unaware of some key information. One out of three (34%) do
not know if their home is located in an evacuation zone. Thirty-nine
percent do not know the location of an evacuation center in their
community where they could go if they had to.

A large majority of people would be at risk of eating food that has
spoiled due to a loss of refrigeration in a power outage. The USDA
recommends that perishable food should not be eaten if refrigeration
has been turned off for four hours. Only one in five (20%) knew that
perishable food would be safe for just a few hours. One in three (36%)
said that food is safe for up to one day, one in four (25%) said two
days, and 16% said three or more days. In addition, one in five did not
know that each household member requires at least one gallon of clean
water per day, the amount recommended by the CDC.

Problems During Past Hurricanes
one-half (46%) of the respondents in the survey live in communities
that were damaged by a hurricane during the past three years. The
survey asked them about the problems they had during these hurricanes
in order to identify issues that could be prevented in future
hurricanes. The most common problem was getting gas to evacuate (35%).
Twenty percent reported they did not have enough money at some point,
14% did not have enough water and 12% did not have enough food. Of
note, smaller numbers reported needing medical care but not getting it
(5%), getting injured (5%) or being threatened by violence (3%). One area where few people reported problems was getting the
information they needed to keep themselves and their families safe

New Orleans
The survey included a sample of the New
Orleans metropolitan area to see if residents there differed from other
high-risk area residents. After their experiences during Hurricane
Katrina, most New Orleans residents say they would evacuate for a
future storm. Only 14% would not evacuate compared to 32% of residents
of other high-risk areas. Six in ten (61%) do not know the location of
an evacuation shelter if they needed to go to one, which is
significantly more than residents of other areas (38%). Despite the
dramatic images of people stranded during Katrina, over half (54%) of
New Orleans residents are confident they would be rescued if they
needed to be during a future storm.

“It is worrisome that New Orleans, the site of one of the most
severe hurricanes in U.S. history, has such a large proportion of
people who don’t know the location of an evacuation center,” said
Professor Blendon. “An important priority for government and voluntary
agencies should be to inform people of the location of shelters well
before a storm hits.”

Even after Katrina, a substantial percentage of New Orleans
residents are not prepared for a major storm. One-half of New Orleans
residents (51%) have not agreed on a place for family to meet if they
get separated. Thirty-nine percent have not agreed on a phone number
outside the region that family members could call. A sizable percentage
of New Orleans residents (23%) do not have more than two days of water
if the water supply were cut off.

When asked to rate the response of government and voluntary agencies
to the problems created by the last major hurricane, 78% percent of New
Orleans residents said it was fair or poor compared to 39% of residents
of other areas damaged by a hurricane. Only 19% of New Orleans
residents said the response was excellent or good compared to 57% in
other areas.

Problems Facing Minorities and Low-Income Residents of High-Risk Hurricane Areas
Hurricane Katrina illustrated the additional challenges facing
minorities and the poor in these high-risk coastal areas during a major
hurricane. This survey finds that although African-Americans (73%) and
Latino-Americans (71%) are more likely than whites (59%) to say they
would evacuate if government officials said they had to leave in the
event of a major hurricane, they are also more likely to need help to
do so. Seventeen percent of African-Americans and 10% of
Latino-Americans say they need help to evacuate and do not have that
help lined up compared to 3% of whites (Figure 7). Low-income residents
also would have more problems evacuating than those who are better off
financially. Eighteen percent of those making less than $25,000 a year
and who intend to evacuate do not have the necessary help compared to
4% of those making $25,000 a year or more.

If minorities and low-income residents are unable to evacuate
because they do not have help, they are less prepared to stay in their
homes and weather the storm and its aftermath. Approximately one-third
of African-Americans (32%), Latino-Americans (35%) and low-income
residents (33%) say they are not prepared if a major hurricane were to
strike their community in the next six months. This compares to 14% of
whites and 19% of those making $25,000 a year or more. A greater
percentage of African-Americans (18%), Latino-Americans (11%) and
low-income residents (14%) do not have enough food on hand to last more
than three days compared to whites (6%) and those making $25,000 a year
or more (8%).

This is the 25th 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 Tami Buhr, John M. Benson, 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 June 18 and July 10, 2007.

The survey was conducted with a representative sample of 5,046
non-institutionalized adults ages 18 and over in high hurricane risk
counties in eight states. Survey participants included residents of all
counties within 20 miles of the coast in Alabama (503 interviews),
Florida (1,006), Georgia (506), Louisiana (1,004), Mississippi (513),
North Carolina (504), South Carolina (507), and Texas (503). The survey
included 502 residents of the New Orleans metropolitan area, where
interviews were conducted with adults from cellphone-only households,
as well from households with landline telephones.

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 2.6 percentage points;
for the New Orleans-area sample, plus or minus 4.7 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 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