The primary focus of this SGER project is to determine if people are evacuating in response to the meteorological variables of a hurricane, such as forecasted winds and storm surge. The PIs will ascertain which meteorological variable(s) motivate residents to evacuate and the sources used to assess those factors. Results will yield a better understanding of residents' priorities, and this will allow forecasters, emergency managers, and government officials to better communicate with the residents in advance of hurricanes by focusing on variables of interest to the people. A secondary objective is to analyze the spatial variation of threat perceptions across the evacuation region. It is important to determine if people are evacuating in anticipation of the worst damage swath immediately to the right of the eye, or if they are evacuating due to a perceived threat of hurricane force conditions across the entire region. Prior research has addressed these questions, but they were mostly conducted well after the storm or with respect to hypothetical situations. In 2008, Hurricane Gustav had the potential to be a powerful hurricane and to influence a highly-populated and recently impacted coastline in Louisiana and Mississippi. Gustav was anticipated to prompt a mass evacuation of the Gulf Coast region, thus providing an ideal and narrow window to survey evacuees during the evacuation process. Given the frustrating evacuation of Hurricane Rita, it is a concern that many residents may not evacuate as readily for future storms of comparable intensity. Improved understanding will ultimately aid in the planning of evacuations as researchers can predict where residents will evacuate (or not) according to the expected threat(s) in their area.
These data to be collected during this project cannot be considered the same as data collected after the storm has impacted the area and affected the subjects' perspectives and priorities. It is likely that vital information will be lost regarding the exact reason(s) for evacuation during a post-storm assessment. Furthermore, individuals may not clearly remember the meteorological variables that influenced their decision to evacuate. These data may provide a better understanding as to what drives personal evacuation decisions. A voluntary post-storm survey will be used to determine whether evacuees' perceptions and motivations change after the storm. This will help relate these results to those of other post-storm studies. In addition to scientific publications, results will also be disseminated to emergency managers and government officials.