UTSPH researchers find most people intend to comply with hurricane evacuation orders

Hurricanes are a way of life in the U.S. Gulf Coast Region. Researchers at The University of Texas School of Public Health (UTSPH) examined low income coastal residents’ intention to comply with mandatory hurricane evacuation orders. Results were published online ahead of print in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness.

Belinda Reininger 2012 web 231x300 | UTSPH researchers find most people intend to comply with hurricane evacuation orders

Belinda Reininger, DrPH

Principal investigator Belinda Reininger, DrPH, associate professor in the Division of Health Promotion and Behavioral Science at the UTSPH Brownsville Regional Campus said the study findings suggest that the majority of residents living in areas prone to hurricanes do intend to comply with mandatory evacuation orders regardless of income level.

“We saw variation in intention to comply with mandatory evacuation orders when examining age, gender, ethnicity, education, acculturation, county or distance from shoreline,” Reininger said.

The demonstrated high intention to comply with evacuation orders in impoverished areas suggests a need for improved planning to evacuate the most vulnerable residents. Preparation planners also need to be aware of demographic and location characteristics associated with decreased intention to comply. They may consider targeted messages and education before disasters to modify residents’ intentions and plans to evacuate.

Researchers conducted a door-to-door survey across a three-county area in the southern Texas Gulf Coast region. The final sample included 3088 households in 100 census tracts. Within these three counties, 32% to 42% of families are below poverty level, and 25% to 31% of the population has less than a ninth grade education.  More than 87% of this community is Hispanic and 74% to 83% of the population speaks a language other than English at home.   

Given that the majority of respondents in this population were low income, their need for assistance with mandatory evacuation scenarios was potentially great.

“Based on previous scenarios in other coastal areas such as Hurricane Katrina where demand for help with evacuation outweighed available assistance among the poor and vulnerable,” Reininger said, “this study’s results show us that preparedness planning doesn’t need to focus on increasing intentions to comply with evacuation orders among Hispanics but should focus on closing the gap between intention and actual evacuation behaviors during a hurricane.” 

Additional researchers from UTSPH are Sartaj R. Alam, MA, Ana Sanchez Carrasco, MPH, Zhongxue Chen, PhD, Joseph McCormick, MD, MPH and Mohammad H. Rahbar, PhD. Co-author Barbara Adams, MPH, CPH, is from the Texas Department of State Health Services, Region 11 in Harlingen.