Evacuation Protocols and the Element of Fear

evacuation

Evacuation protocols are a necessary evil, but the cold hard truth is that no one – and I do mean no one – ever wants to evacuate from their home.  This resistance often leads to non-compliance, and when people fail to evacuate when necessary, the death toll is sure to rise.  According to recent research, it’s safe to say that at least 5% of people told to evacuate will fail to comply.  Although 5% doesn’t seem like much, if 1 million people are told to evacuate and 5% of them stay behind, that’s 50,000 people.

Experts recommend doling out a combination of fear and specific instructions to maximize evacuation compliance.  Sadly, thanks to human nature, fear seems to be the best tactic.  One example of using fear happened as Superstorm Sandy approached New York in 2012.  Residents who refused to evacuate were instructed to either write their social security numbers on their arms in permanent marker so their bodies could be identified, or to fill out a form detailing how to notify their next of kin.

Aside from the element of fear, some other best practices to maximize evacuation compliance are to emphasize that the evacuation is mandatory as opposed to voluntary, and to avoid making comparisons to previous storms because each one is unique and making these comparisons could promote a false sense of security.  People living in evacuation areas should also be educated on why they are at risk, and they should be giving a specific deadline to evacuate.  Evacuation messages should also look differently so they stand out from general information clutter.

No matter how it’s accomplished, maximizing the number of people who comply with an evacuation order is important for emergency responders both within and outside the utility sector.  Simply put, emergency responders and restoration personnel will be able to do their jobs more efficiently if the restoration zone is devoid of people.

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