Hurricane Hazards, Evacuations, and Sheltering: Evacuation Decision-Making in the Prevaccine Era of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the PRVI Region

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Although research relating to hurricane evacuation behavior and perceptions of risk has grown throughout the years, there is very little understanding of how these risks compound during a pandemic. Utilizing the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (PRVI) as a study region, this work examines risk perceptions and evacuation planning during the first hurricane season following the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic before vaccines were widely available. Analyses of how people view public shelters and whether evacuation choices will change in light of COVID-19 concerns were conducted, and results reflect major changes in anticipated evacuation behavior during the 2020 hurricane season. Key findings include that over one-half of the sample considered themselves vulnerable to COVID-19. When asked about their intended actions for the 2020 hurricane season, a significant number of individuals who would have previously evacuated to a shelter said that they would choose not to during the pandemic, reflecting that public shelter usage has the potential to decrease when the decision is coupled with COVID-19 threats. In addition, individuals were shown to have a negative perception of public shelter options. Approximately one-half of the respondents had little faith in shelters’ ability to protect them, and three-quarters of respondents found the risks of enduring a hurricane to be less than those posed by public shelters. These results will inform future hazard mitigation planning during a disease outbreak or pandemic.

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Weather, Climate, and Society, v. 14, issue 2, p. 451-466