Hurricane Rita forced a hurry-up evacuation of more than two million people from Harris County and the worst traffic nightmare in memory. Rice University Political Science Professor Bob Stein says less than half that many people evacuated ahead of Hurricane Ike. A lot of people who evacuated ahead of Rita stayed home for Ike.
“People were responding to Ike because of the anticipated power loss, and they delayed their departures. Not just people inside the evacuation area, which is dangerous, but people outside as well. And that would have led to much more congestion had we had a more severe storm with higher levels of evacuation. We only had about a million people evacuating from Ike.”
Stein says no two hurricanes are alike and that’s the problem for emergency managers and first responders. Each storm brings its own set of problems. One brings heavy rains and flooding, the next one may not rain as much. Neighborhoods are also different. Stein says each needs its own unique plans and procedures, and no “one size fits all” template fits every area. That makes it hard to get people to pay heed to evacuation plans.
“The real question that we’re trying to ponder is, you know, how can public officials and first responders communicate these messages, and what will it take to convince people to change their behavior.”
You can read the Rice report comparing the Ike and Rita responses at the Rice University News web site.
Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.