News 3 Investigates: Evacuation — why some populations choose to stay behind when hurricanes hit

Posted at 6:47 AM, Sep 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-13 08:26:31-04

SUFFOLK, Va. - As hurricanes approach, emergency managers have to make the choice -- do we ask residents to leave for their safety?

Old Dominion University Professor and Researcher Joshua Behr tells News 3 certain populations will always be the likely groups to stay behind due to factors that they consider less detrimental than weather.Though everyone should heed the advice of emergency professionals,not everyone does.

Behr lists off the populations likely to brave a storm and explains why:

1. Elderly: if they have disabilities or medical regiments they do not want to disrupt their routine. Also, if the person's caregiver stays, they are likely to stay.
2. Owners/workers of small businesses: family owed businesses in roofing, auto repair, housing repair and the like view the storm as an opportunity and they avoid leaving the area because they fear not being able to get back home to their customers.
3. Pets: Many view pets as important members of the family and if the pet has travel anxiety or medical issues, these families choose to take their chances.
4. Young military families: if their support system is the base and other military families, this population avoids evacuation.
5. Those who think they can handle it: Behr said as a person's 'storm-literacy' goes up, so does their likelihood or staying behind when other evacuate.
6. Anyone who has lived through multiple storms before: as long as they have not suffered injury to person or property, they figure they can handle it. This is according to Behr's research that started back in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina.
7. Those who cannot afford it or do not have a means of transportation: some who may have evacuated in the past could still be behind on bills from that trip and are hesitant now to evacuate when they are still paying off the last evacuation.

There are other groups too, who choose to stay behind as storm approach but Behr said those who are usually most vulnerable are the ones most at risk because they take the chance and stay when they probably should leave.

Behr started this research after Hurricane Katrina hit his family over a decade ago. He said they suffered personal and property loss but it sparked this study. He has continued to research in Hampton Roads and said many of the characteristics of Louisiana hold true to the Tidewater Region.

The research has ten years of data behind it, but it continues to this day. Behr said Hampton Roads Emergency Management crews often meet with him to plan out evacuation strategy and are now aiming to help low-income families become groups who choose to evacuate.