I’m curious if readers would blindly follow a “mandatory” mass evacuation order?
A recent train derailment in East Tennessee resulted in a mass evacuation that the public was told could last from 24-48 hours. I chose to stay. Using my own experience, as well as knowledge of the hazard, I obtained a second opinion of a subject matter expert I trusted and decided against evacuating my location. Some of my neighbors made similar decisions, though many did leave.
I started to think about the factors behind my decision and wondered what others would do in similar conditions. Here are some of the questions that came to my mind.
Would you take the evacuation order at face value and leave without any questioning?
If you had the inside scoop from a subject matter expert who had previous experience with the same type of hazard would you stay or leave based on what they advised you?
If you thought it was politically driven more to cover a politician’s career (e.g. CYA) than address real public safety issues, would you stay or leave? It’s easy to say everyone should evacuate out of harms way but there are a lot of factors that need to be in place to carry it out well.
Do you have to have trust in the source in order to follow the order? For example do you have to believe the hazard (if airborne) is not at your location yet prior to leaving? What if shelter-in-place might be a better option?
If you yourself were trained in the hazard would you trust your decision over someone else?
What if your neighbors looked to you knowing you have subject matter expertise? Would you advise them to follow the order or stay behind? Would you then be responsible for their safety if conditions changed?
I have the benefit of years of experience and the Readers will have to trust that I understand all the nuances of evacuation and shelter-in-place as a protective action strategy. I’ve also helped clients develop policy, procedures, and standard operating guidance about evacuations. I hope to keep this conversation more on the triggers and resources and critical thinking skills you would use to decide when or when not to follow a mandatory evacuation order.
Mass evacuation laws vary from state to state and seem to be more refined in those areas where natural disasters (fires and hurricanes) occur with some regularity. People living in those areas gain experience and/or biases with historical events which probably influences their own decision. Mass evacuation statutes typically give the governor the authority to declare a state of emergency/disaster and order a mandatory mass evacuation. Many laws will indicate a delegation of that same authority to elected officials at lower levels of government.
Terminology in those laws include “compel” to mean to use force or coercion to bring about the desired result of evacuation. Using coercion to get me to act against my free choice rubs me the wrong way. I think sets a dangerous precedent of government acting too paternalistic. Is it really reasonable to force people to leave their homes? My parents often told me what was best for me as a young child. As I grew older I often had a choice in the matter. Of course my decisions had consequences. I’m not convinced anymore that when politicians make a choice, there are consequences.
Coercion tactics such as being told to write your social security number on your arm with an indelible marker to make body identification “easier”; or knocking on doors wearing an SCBA only to be seen wandering up the street later yucking it up without wearing a mask don’t come off as professional or credible. Apparently the strength of data, science, or reasonableness regarding the need to evacuate is not strong enough if these cheap tricks are deemed appropriate.
The recent surge in shark attacks along the eastern seaboard bring up a similar challenge of deciding if there should be a precautionary evacuation of going in the water. If you don’t get in the water you won’t be bitten by a shark — that’s a fact. What’s interesting is that evacuating the water as a public safety decision is diametrically opposite of supporting the tourism industry along coastal vacation communities. As a result we see public officials pulling out the “probability” science of shark attacks as supporting the decision not to restrict going into the water.
The point I’m trying to make is that I am not comfortable letting government officials be responsible for making evacuation decisions on my behalf. I’ve used the word trust more than once in this post and I think a great deal boils down to if I trust where the message is coming from. Evacuation is a great CYA tool for politicians but I don’t think they always have my best interests at heart. I also believe reasonable people with key information can make good decisions on their own.
Help me understand what factors you think would weigh in on your decision to evacuate or if being told to do so is sufficient for you.