Before every hurricane, we hear elected officials to tell people to “get out of harm’s way.” They say that “if you don’t leave, you are putting your own life at risk.” Or even more dire—I’ve heard elected officials say that “death is certain” if you don’t evacuate. People in parts of Louisiana and Texas heard all of this as Hurricane Laura was approaching last week.
Now don’t get me wrong—I appreciate the strong language. I think that when a major hurricane is heading straight at you, particularly if you’re in an area vulnerable to storm surge from the hurricane, you need to evacuate, if at all possible.
However, I beg people, including any government officials, to take notice of that final clause in my previous sentence: if at all possible.
I say that because, for some people, evacuating is not possible. And the results of this are catastrophic, even deadly.
But how could this be the case, when governments like to give a face of taking these storms seriously? Well…here are just a few major barriers to evacuating from a weather disaster:
Not enough shelters are pet-friendly.
A Reuters article some time ago put it best—pet owners often think of their pets first when natural disasters strike. Now some of that is because people are that emotionally attached to their pets (and that is valid), but we also have to keep in mind that, in some cases, people literally can’t function without their pets. From people who rely on animals as a form of therapy for physical and/or mental health issues, to blind individuals who rely on guide dogs to get them around, there is a whole population of people who can’t function without their pets. Therefore, it is unacceptable for governments to either be short on shelters (as was the case with Florida before Hurricane Irma in 2017, according to the aforementioned Reuters article) or lack pet-friendly shelters in the first place (as was the case with South Carolina with Hurricane Florence a few years ago). If governments want people to evacuate, they need to have evacuation shelters that allow people to be with their pets, for both people who are attached to their pets and for people who can’t function without pets.
Governments also do not provide adequate transportation for people with disabilities.
I was only eleven years old when Hurricane Katrina hit, but one of the things I remember from Katrina was how the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana did not adequately provide transportation for the disabled to get to a safe place. Depending on the disability, one may not be able to get to higher ground on their own; therefore, there needs to be help. With Hurricane Katrina, government didn’t help adequately, and the death toll was probably much higher than it should’ve been because of that lack of help.
I will end this section with a quote from a report issued by the National Council on Disability in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005: “For example, during the Katrina evacuation, many people with disabilities could not evacuate because to do so would require them to abandon support services and personnel. Moreover, since emergency transportation and shelters could not care for them, many people with disabilities were forced to stay behind.”
Employee rights are inadequate.
How inadequate are employee rights? So inadequate that people can, and have, been fired because of evacuating from hurricanes. For example, a woman in North Carolina claimed that she was fired for not showing up to work after losing power during Hurricane Florence in 2018—that’s very possible because North Carolina is what’s called an “at-will employment state,” or a state where “private-sector employees can be fired for any reason – or no reason at all.” There were also stories galore before, during, and after Hurricane Irma asking whether an employee can be fired for fleeing from the hurricane (by the way, the consensus answer was “yes”). Until governments have better protections keeping people from being fired for not showing up to work during or immediately after a hurricane as part of an evacuation plan, people will hesitate to evacuate for fear of missing work and being fired.
When a disaster such as a hurricane is on the way, the barriers to evacuating should be minimized to the greatest extent possible. However, that does not happen, and that likely results in preventable deaths.
Please note that I will not publish a post next Monday, as next Monday is Labor Day.
 This article talked about how, even for those who need companion animals, pet-friendly shelters were difficult to find: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-elderly-evacuation-pets/florida-needs-more-pet-friendly-hurricane-shelters-for-the-elderly-idUSKBN1CM2Q4