Understanding the Decision to Evacuate on the United States Gulf Coast: The Case of Hurricane Irma in Florida

Roberta D. Baer, Emily Holbrook, Kilian Kelly, Susan C. Weller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This paper considers local knowledge and individual decisions concerning hurricane evacuation for Hurricane Irma in Tampa, Florida, to better understand why people fail to evacuate from storm-vulnerable regions on the Gulf Coast of the United States. Research on hurricane evacuation has yielded equivocal results in predicting who will evacuate when given a mandatory order to evacuate, but one consistent finding is that approximately 30-40 percent do not evacuate. In-depth interviews with eleven neighbor-pairs (one who evacuated and one who did not) residing in mandatory evacuation zones for Hurricane Irma explored reasons to evacuate or stay. Evacuation rationales were analyzed to distinguish households that evacuated from those who remained. Thirteen rationales distinguished the two groups and reflected three main themes: perceived risk (storm-worthiness of their house and its elevation), influence by friends and neighbors (principally, neighbors), and evacuation logistics (leaving early). Because hurricane response in Florida is limited by the geography of the state, many who evacuated did not go far and sought refuge in safer buildings relatively close to home. Although disaster planning stresses evacuation, understanding local knowledge and strategies can help to plan for disasters and protect vulnerable populations from hurricane risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-212
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Organization
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • Florida
  • disasters
  • evacuation
  • hurricanes
  • risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Social Sciences


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