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COVID-19 major obstacle for evacuation during hurricanes in US

4 November 2021
The 2020 Hurricane season in the US had a record number of named storms and coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic.

IVM researchers Wouter Botzen, Jantsje Mol, Peter Robinson as well as Juan Zhang and Jeffrey Czajkowski of the National Association for Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) in the USA implemented a survey in June 2020 of 600 individuals in Florida to examine their risk perceptions and preparedness for the forthcoming hurricane season under COVID-19. Their results published in the journal Natural Hazards show that whereas hotel costs were the main obstacle to evacuating during Hurricane Dorian in 2019, the main evacuation obstacle identified in 2020 is COVID-19. 

Moreover, they find that older subgroups are less willing to voluntarily evacuate because they are more concerned about the consequences of becoming infected by COVID-19 than younger subgroups. These patterns of lower evacuation intentions are similar in a follow-up survey conducted in Florida with another sample of respondents under the threat of Hurricane Eta at the end of the hurricane season in November 2020.

The findings highlight the need for policies aimed at improving hurricane preparedness that also take into account the added health risks of pandemics. Examples are  including COVID-19 mitigation measures in hurricane preparedness kits, such as hand sanitizer and mouth masks, abiding by social distancing rules during an evacuation, and planning ahead to identify safe evacuation locations. Emergency management policies should create safe evacuation shelters where COVID-19 risks are well controlled and communicate their COVID-19 measures to the public to increase people’s confidence in shelters’ safety. This project was conducted by IVM in collaboration with the NAIC to inform hurricane risk management by Florida State.