More people expected to stay in Hampton Roads this hurricane season, ODU survey says

Posted at 3:01 PM, Aug 14, 2020

NORFOLK, Va. - As we continue into hurricane season, people may have a tough choice to make: Stay in the path of a major storm or leave town and risk exposure to the coronavirus.

However, the typical storm preparations and travel plans we have seen executed in the past may not be the case for many families this year.

"In that interaction of leaving the region, during evacuation you’re going to expose yourself to a lot of different people, a lot of different places that you wouldn’t otherwise if you were sheltered in place," said Joshua Behr, an associate research professor at Old Dominion University's Virginia, Modeling, Analysis & Simulation Center.

With the coronavirus still spreading, research from Old Dominion Univeristy shows people may be staying put this hurricane season.

A study, which has been done for the past decade or so, surveys people all economic backgrounds, races, ethnicities and genders from Hampton Roads. It's called the "Life in Hampton Roads Survey," and this topic focuses specifically on hurricanes and COVID.

Of the 1,105 people surveyed, it's reported that, "if a major hurricane is forecast to hit Hampton Roads during this hurricane season, over half (55%) of survey respondents report they would not consider evacuating (29%) or were unsure about evacuating (26%).

In addition, a sizable majority would not consider (63%) or were unsure if they would go to a public shelter (19%). Among those residents who say they would not seek shelter, 70% cite concerns about potential exposure to COVID-19."

Behr questioned, "So, do you really want to go to a shelter? What reassurances do you have that those shelters are going to be sanitized and clean and social distancing is going to be enforced?"

Stocking up on disinfectant supplies and recruiting volunteers in shelters also poses a new challenge during a pandemic.

"Many of those volunteers are an older population. Well, what don't you want to do with an older population? You don't want to stick them right in the middle of crossing paths with dozens, if not scores of people, that enter a shelter on a daily basis," Behr said.

Another point to take note of is that people's financial situations are also unlike they've been in the past. Behr reports that families who may have experienced furloughs or firings in the past few months are less likely to evacuate. He said the process can be expensive.

Related: Emergency management says COVID combined with a major storm could be a big problem

"[A lot of people are forced to work [until the last minute and] because of that delay, they pay a premium for that evacuation, they go farther and they pay more for the food and fuel and the shelter. So, the people that are least able to afford the evacuation are generally the ones that pay the most," Behr said.

According to the survey's findings, with fewer residents expected in public shelters and fewer residents planning to evacuate, there may be more people remaining in areas at risk of flooding during a severe storm.

These results help local and state leaders make safety plans based on the community's need and desire.

For the full report, click here.

Click here for more local hurricane resources and information.