BOSTON (CBS) – Some 400,000 Gulf Coast residents were told to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Michael. Most did, but many did not. And as the search for the dead continues, we’re once again confronted with a sad question – why won’t people heed a life-and-death warning?
I’m afraid we’re in store for many stories over the next few days of people who didn’t make it because they just didn’t believe the authorities when they warned of what was coming. So what can be done about it going forward?
In a study done after Hurricane Katrina, Akron University professor Stacey Willett found several factors at play with danger deniers. Older people with physical or economic restrictions were less likely to leave their homes. Men were more likely to shrug off warnings than women.
And peer pressure was also a factor, from friends and neighbors or from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who repeatedly scoffs at evacuation requests as a political scam designed to promote global warming theories.
The devastation in Florida doesn’t look like a scam to me. But Dr. Willett says the antidote to evacuation refusal lies in the same force we see at play in the aftermath of natural disasters – community solidarity. If men won’t listen, women have to lead; if people are suspicious of officials, friends and neighbors have to step up and use their influence.
We’ve come a long way in the technology of advance storm warnings. Now we need to step up our human relationship game to make them work.