Posted: 8:18 pm Sunday, January 23rd, 2011
Evacuation study: ‘Dire consequences’ if big hurricane threatens Palm Beach County and Treasure Coast
By Eliot Kleinberg
Population turnover, short memories, complacency and laziness all add up to potential “dire consequences” should a substantial hurricane threaten Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, a state study says.
“There remain serious challenges in this region if we are to avoid the loss of life and property and human suffering witnessed in the 2005 hurricane season in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas,” says a draft executive summary of the Florida Statewide Regional Evacuation Study (PDF).
The study, distributed to state and local managers in December, split the state into 11 planning regions; the part covering Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties is the work of the state’s division of emergency management and the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.
Its conclusion: “We have come to a point in this metropolitan coastal region that complacency and apathy will have dire consequences.”
And it repeats what others already have said for years.
That, despite the historic assault of Andrew in 1992, despite the unprecedented evacuation when Floyd threatened in 1999, despite the four killer hurricanes in 2004 and Wilma’s assault on Florida in 2005, and despite the images of Katrina:
*Many people still have no hurricane plan.
*Many people believe their home is safe when it isn’t.
*Many are in evacuation zones but say they wouldn’t leave.
*Many are not supposed to leave but say they would anyway.
*Of those who do say they’d leave, many wouldn’t go just a few miles but instead would try to flee the region or even the state, a move that would cause unnecessary and dangerous traffic gridlock.
The survey lauded improvements in hurricane evacuation planning, including increase shelter capacity, public transit, accommodations for pets, special needs shelters, and efforts to reduce the number of people who need to leave home at all.
It said actually performing an evacuation “will be complex and challenging.”
And, it said, “Recent events have tragically demonstrated the power of nature and the horrific results if government and citizens fail to respond appropriately.”
It said local governments pound the point home in messages they insert into utility and tax bills, special mailings, and web sites, “so it is unclear why so many residents do not know their evacuation level or understand their risk.”
The summary urged emergency managers to work even harder to educate the public that, if they’re in evacuation area, refusing to leave could cost them their lives.
Much of this study stems from the work of Florida State University geography professor Jay Baker, who for some 35 years has looked at how people prepare for hurricanes. He issued a study last summer that reached many of the same findings.
Most recently, he said in a telephone interview, he’s been “focusing more on trying to understand why these people have the misconceptions they do about the vulnerability of their homes.”
Of course, the only thing worse than leaving when you should stay is staying when you should leave.
“I don’t think its a matter of not having a plan. I think it’s a matter of not having a plan that’s related to the nature of your vulnerability. They don’t know whether they need to evacuate or not,” Baker said.
Things might get more complicated this summer when the state tweaks the borders of each county’s evacuation zones.
Baker said that actually could be a good thing, because the most of the modifications will be minor and the attention to them will remind people to see where their homes are positioned.