Hurricanes and the Ethics of Evacuation

August 12th, 2011 by The Responsibility Project

As hurricane season peaks, questions about personal responsibility.

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The Responsibility Project

It’s peak hurricane season along the Atlantic once again, and with the aftermath of past super-sized storms such as Gustav and Ike still fresh, a pointed debate has taken hold that has pitted personal responsibility against Mother Nature and the rule of law.

At issue are the increasing number of hurricane holdouts who refuse to leave their homes, even in the face of mandatory evacuation orders and National Weather Service warnings of “certain death.”

Some stay because they are elderly, infirm, or have no place to go. Others say evacuating is too “expensive” – they can’t afford to fix a broken car and don’t have money for gas anyway.

“You need to be scared,” implored New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, as Hurricane Gustav bore down on the city three years ago. But even his Category 5 language – “You need to get your butts out of New Orleans now” – had little bearing on people determined to stay.

According to the Yorkshire Post, the most defiant group of holdouts includes those who hunker down to protect their property from forces other than nature. “I am staying here because of what happened to my pub when Katrina rolled in – looting and mindless destruction,” explained a New Orleans bar owner who ignored Gustav’s mandatory evacuation order. “I will probably stay until someone with a rifle and uniform shows up.”

And that’s what worries authorities – when someone’s personal decision to ride out a hurricane goes awry, other lives are put on the line, most notably, rescue workers. Galveston’s city manager once described the situation as “very frustrating,” while a Washington Times editorial plunged right into the swelling question of personal responsibility and hurricanes, noting, “It is usually thought of as a strong and noble character trait identifying one’s ability to manage his or her own affairs responsibly. But in the wake of Hurricane Ike, it has proven to ally with sheer stupidity.”

What do you think about mandatory evacuation orders and those who choose to stay behind to protect their personal property during a natural disaster?

(A portion of this story was previously published as “Is Evacuating Your Home a Personal Choice?” on The Responsibility Project on 9/23/08)