Individual hurricane evacuation intentions during the COVID-19 pandemic: insights for risk communication and emergency management policies


The U.S. 2020 hurricane season was extraordinary because of a record number of named storms coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic. This study draws lessons on how individual hurricane preparedness is influenced by the additional risk stemming from a pandemic, which turns out to be a combination of perceptions of flood and pandemic risks that have opposite effects on preparedness behavior. We conducted a survey in early June 2020 of 600 respondents in flood-prone areas in Florida to obtain insights into households' risk perceptions and preparedness for the upcoming hurricane season under COVID-19. The results show that concerns over COVID-19 dominated flood risk perceptions and negatively impacted people’s evacuation intentions. Whereas hotel costs were the main obstacle to evacuating during Hurricane Dorian in 2019 in the same geographic study area, the main evacuation obstacle identified in the 2020 hurricane season is COVID-19. Our statistical analyses investigating the factors influencing evacuation intentions show that older individuals are less likely to evacuate under a voluntary order, because they are more concerned about the consequences of becoming infected by COVID-19. We observe similar findings based on a real-time survey we conducted in Florida with another group of respondents under the threat of Hurricane Eta at the end of the hurricane season in November 2020. We discuss the implications of our findings for risk communication and emergency management policies that aim to improve hurricane preparedness when dealing with additional health risks such as a pandemic, a situation that may be exacerbated under the future climate.

Natural Hazards