The most common reasons respondents gave for not evacuating were confidence that their home is well-built, belief that roads would be too crowded and concern that evacuating would be dangerous.There is good reason to have low levels of confidence in government coming to the rescue in a natural disaster, but that's no excuse for staying in the face of a natural disaster that can be avoided by moving inland to higher ground.
"Public officials have to realize a substantial group of people are going to remain and be very dependent on rescue efforts after a storm hits," said Robert Blendon, the Harvard health policy professor who directed the survey.
The telephone survey, of 2,029 people, was conducted from July 5 to July 11.
All participants were 18 and older and lived in counties within 50 miles of the coastline in the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
Nearly 50 percent said they had evacuated because of a hurricane before. "These are people with a lot of experience with storms," Blendon said.
When asked if they would evacuate if government officials said a major hurricane was going to hit in the next few days, 67 percent said they would, 24 percent said they would not and the rest said they didn't know or it would depend on the circumstances.
If it turned out they later needed rescuing, 75 percent of those who would or might stay voiced confidence they would be saved.
The rescue findings were surprising, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Blendon said.
Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, devastating southern Mississippi and flooding much of New Orleans. The storm killed more than 1,500 people in one of the largest natural disasters in modern American history.
It's noteworthy that 25 percent of the respondents who would not evacuate would not count on a rescue, said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness.
"There are many people who have an extremely low level of confidence in the government," Redlener said.
It appears that the lessons of Katrina have not been learned despite the loss of life and tremendous economic damages throughout the Gulf Coast from multiple hurricane strikes in just the past few years.
Choosing not to evacuate could end up being a fatal mistake for thousands, which will then require search and rescue teams risking their lives to try and save folks who should never have stayed in harms' way.