Hurricane Risk Perceptions and Evacuation Decision-Making in the Age of COVID-19

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Atmosphere, Social Science, Emergency preparedness, Societal impacts

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The COVID-19 pandemic increases the complexity of planning for hurricanes as social distancing is in direct conflict with human mobility and congregation. COVID-19 presents not only urgent challenges for this hurricane season due to the likeliness of continued or heightened COVID-19 threat, but also challenges with the next hurricane season with additional waves of the pandemic. There is severe urgency to understand the impact of COVID-19 risk perceptions and the extent people are willing to risk their lives by sheltering in place rather than evacuating during severe hurricanes. In June 2020, a survey (in both English and Spanish) of 40 questions was disseminated through regional planning councils, emergency management, and the media to Florida residents. A total of 7,072 people responded from over 50 counties. Most data obtained were ordinal or categorical in nature, encouraging usage of nonparametric analysis and chi-square tests. Almost half the respondents view themselves as vulnerable to COVID-19 due to preexisting health conditions, and 74.3% of individuals viewed the risk of being in a shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic as more dangerous than enduring hurricane hazards. Additionally, there was a significant number of individuals who would choose to not utilize a public shelter during COVID-19 when they would have previously. Officials can use the results of this study regarding how household evacuation plans change with social distancing to better inform strategies of shelter preparedness and COVID-19 risk mitigation to minimize risk to those in harm’s way of storm surge and other hurricane effects during a mandatory evacuation order.

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Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, v. 102, issue 4, p. E836-E848