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USF researchers develop survey to study hurricane evacuation decisions amid COVID-19 pandemic

Researchers at the University of South Florida are trying to find out how people view hurricane evacuation orders during a global pandemic, and Florida residents can help their research by completing a survey.

Jennifer Collins, a professor in the School of Geosciences at the University of South Florida, helped develop the survey to get an understanding of people’s potential evacuation decisions, while also looking at how COVID-19 might play a role in their plans.

“I think it’s really important ever since 2020 being the first year where we have a global pandemic, which has really increased the complexity of planning for hurricanes because you’ve got social distancing that we should be considering with COVID-19 and that’s in direct conflict with human congregation that might happen in a shelter,” said Collins. “You’ve got these kind of conflicting messages with taking care of yourself with COVID-19, but also taking care of yourself with hurricane impact.”

Collins explained the survey is for people in coastal areas that could be impacted by hurricanes, and she would encourage anyone in Florida to take the survey. Survey participants are asked about their vaccination status and if that would impact their decision to evacuate, and possibly to a shelter, or shelter-in-place and face other risks, like strong winds and storm surge.

“I think it’s going to provide a lot of information about who the vulnerable is, where they are, and how they believe COVID-19 may impact their decisions to evacuate or shelter in place,” said Collins. “I think the information that we can provide emergency managers or some agencies, like the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, will certainly help them to target their messaging.”

Sarah Vitale, a senior planner with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, helps provide a resource called the All-Hazards Disaster Planning Guide, which this year will be done for Hernando, Citrus, Sarasota and Manatee Counties. Vitale explained how the survey results could help them.

“Anything that we gain from these survey results will help inform how we craft the language within the guide to make sure that if people do have these concerns about the shelters and if they think that they don’t want to be in close proximity with strangers, they can better understand that there are going to be safety measures in place, like social distancing and taking temperatures, hand washing, all the things we’ve gotten so good at over the last year,” said Vitale. “The shelters are preparing now to keep everybody safe if they have to evacuate.”

Researchers plan to start relaying preliminary data to agencies within the next few weeks before the start of hurricane season on June 1.

For a link to the survey, click here.

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