By Jon Keller

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.

Cars piled on top of each other after Hurricane Michael on October 11, 2018 in Mexico Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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.

Speak your mind via email at, or use Twitter, @kelleratlarge.

Jon Keller

Comments (3)
  1. The authorities are for the benefit of the people, why won’t they just listen? Why the huge gap in trust and communication?

  2. Theodore Oule says:

    Evacuation requests that go far beyond the areas that could be affected are what makes people so willing to ignore them.

    And, just look at the pictures…You can see the line of destruction inland, just as a reasonable prediction of storm surge would suggest. You can also see the differences in construction quality with better constructed buildings surviving.

    The secret to preventing this sort of mayhem is to prevent anyone from building in the ravaged area for whatever reason. The owners are responsible for their own actions, and we, even has human beings, have no reason to insulate people from their own stupidity.

    We live on the Cape and would willingly ignore any “evacuation order” in my community short of a threatened tsunami.

    But then again, we live in a structure that was built in the 1870, and live on a hill 54′ above the flood plane. We cook and heat with gas…an underground utility. Our electricity and phone/cable are underground from the street some 400′ away. We are blocked from the winds from the south and the west, and the east winds have much of the Cape to get across before they reach us. From the north, we have a good six miles of marsh, a quarter-mile wide, to protect us from surge BEFORE it starts to go up.

    Any storm-related evacuation order for us is logical and unrealistic, not to mention a senseless waste our time and money.

  3. Brian Handy says:

    I’m sure you have a tape of the comment you attributed to Rush Limbaugh. I don’t believe he ever made such a statement and if not you owe him an apology.

Leave a Reply