Some Thoughts on Government Evacuation Orders
With the experience of Hurricane Ike finally over for south Texas residents, we can now look in hindsight at the mistakes that were made and what individuals and local communities can do better for the next storm. A key point that will be under-discussed by officials is how closely their rhetoric prior to the storm matched the realities during the storm.
Ever since the events of 9/11/2001, as a nation, we have been more attuned to the potential for man-made disasters, whether they be from terrorists or by accident, and our government officials have swiftly responded to the situation, usually with good intentions, though sometimes with statist ambitions. This heightened sense of alert and awareness soon spread to natural disasters in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and America has not been the same ever since.
Into this new environment entered Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Both storms were widely touted as creators of imminent “certain death” and that all who ignored the government’s warnings were bound to parish in a watery grave. What is interesting is that these claims often come from officials who have never visited the area about which they are speaking and have no more information than local residents upon which to base their claims. Armed with the latest National Weather Service reports- all of which are publicly distributed- state and federal officials speak as if they have more a more intimate relationship with Mother Nature than the average coastal resident, and thus they are better prepared to make the appropriate decision about whether a resident should hunker down or evacuate. This elitist mentality is prevalent throughout all levels of government with intensity increasing proportional to the rank and power of the official.
If the government does have a greater ability to determine the expected risk to life and property than the individuals who own their lives and own their property then we should be asking - why are officials so often sounding false alarms or at least exaggerating claims? The reason is that in order for their mandates to be effective, they have to a one-size-fits-all solution by mandating that all leave if any are in significant danger. In the long run, the results of this policy can be deadly due to “evacuation fatigue” and the “official who cried wolf” syndrome. These problems occur when officials over-hype a storm (ex. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin referring to Gustav as “the storm of the century” and “the mother of all storms”) to force residents to evacuate for a storm that turns out to be not nearly as destructive as officials led residents to believe. The consequences of this policy will not be felt until the truly “mother of all storms” is zeroed in on a city full of residents tired of the government’s false alarms and unwilling to listen to them again.
As a Louisiana native and someone who has lived most of my life in counties along the gulf coast, I can personally attest to the devastation a hurricane can bring upon a community is not something most should want to witness first hand. The threats to life are often real and sometimes underestimated. The destruction a large storm surge creates is on the level of the infamous great plains tornadoes, just on a massive scale. But, that being said, I will not allow myself to fall into the government’s deadly cycle of unnecessary evacuation. I have enough common sense to know if my residence is in danger of being severely damaged or destroyed by wind, surge, or flood, and given the extended length of time available to prepare or evacuate in advance of a hurricane I am certain I am able to make the right decision based upon the expected storm conditions and vulnerability of my property.
The consequences of not evacuating can be devastating and one should always err on the side of caution, but this does not discount the problems created by leaving one’s property unattended. Problems such as looting and the inability to enter the area after the storm are among the top reasons individuals decide against evacuating. These are real factors that one should take into account and no government is able to properly weigh the myriad of costs and benefits to evacuating or staying, no matter how prepared or experienced that government may be. Because I believe that my analysis, as opposed to the judgment of government, on whether or not to evacuate will be more aligned with my situation and values. I will be resisting mandatory evacuation orders if they go against my better judgment. Besides, the government should not be in the business of protecting me from myself.