A Nurse with a Gun

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Refusal to Leave

For decades, indeed over a century, the greater population of New Orleans was recalcitrant about evacuating in the face of a hurricane. They had weathered many storms, and they were fond of saying "they always turn" as if by divine providence The Big Easy would always be spared. Then, in August 2005, hurricane Katrina loomed off shore. Many failed to evacuate despite authorities announcing this was "the big one." Over eighteen hundred people lost their lives. New Orleans was pumped dry, but is still being rebuilt three years later.

As hurricane Gustav approached South Louisiana, the exodus was massive, the largest in history. No doubt having Katrina and the toxic soup bowl she left behind fresh on their minds, New Orleans was deserted and left to weather the storm alone. She was spared. The storm "turned." The evacuees returned.

Then Ike appeared. It turned also, directly towards Galveston. Reportedly over 140,000 Texans refused to evacuate. Heads of families chose to put their loved ones at risk when authorities announced that staying would amount to "certain death." In 1900, an unnamed hurricane slammed into Galveston. Between 6000 and 12,000 people perished. The death toll from Ike is still unknown.

Why is it that people refuse to evacuate from an approaching hurricane? After Katrina, there was talk of the difficulty of evacuation for so many people who were dependent on public transportation. Evacuation of the sick and infirm can place them as much at risk as staying. For the healthy father with a minivan and a family, remaining in such a perilous place is beyond ludicrous. They place their loved ones at risk of annihilation to save a few possessions from the weather and looters.

Have they become accustomed to not believing the announcements over the airwaves days prior to landfall? Do the announcements need to be revised? Has faith in official announcements dwindled because of doom and gloom forecasts every time a hurricane enters the Gulf of Mexico? Does crying wolf over and over reduce the authorities to the status of Chicken Little? Or are these people simply stubbornly refusing to evacuate because they know they can refuse? Is it a childish aversion to authority telling them what they should do? Are they acting on emotions rather than logic? I do not know. I do think that the authorities need to take a hard sociological look at this phenomenon and make adjustments in how they recommend and order evacuations. If they do not, the death toll will only rise.

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Blogger John S said...

I think lot of it is a simple disbelief in harm coming to them.

It's hard to break into "real life" for something like that.

I've been on company emergency response teams, and I know it's hard to get folks to evacuate for a drill. One technique to get them onto a different 'track' is to re-interrupt the refuser, and ask him/her to write down his next of kin contact information for me. My wife has had similar training, and her trainer suggested handing the person a Sharpie and asking him to write his social security number on his arm, so he could be identified later.

Both techniques tend to get the 'deer in the headlights' look, followed by something like "oh, I guess I should go, huh?". Works OK in buildings; kind of impractical for tens of thousands.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

There's a part of me that wants to let them choose their own fate. However, it really infuriates me that the people who selfishly choose to stay end up consuming vital resources that should be reserved for those who couldn't evacuate. If they need help it will be given to them, of course, but in my mind they are fully responsible for any consequences of the shortage in supplies and manpower they cause.

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think this can be fixed without a massive cultural revolution in government from top to bottom. Folks have heard everything for so long from the gov, PLUS learned to rely on "the Government" to salve every need that they now know they can ignore the lies AND the reality, smoke a cigarrette, drink a beer, blame someone else, then collect benefits if anything actually does happen to them.
They were warning of CERTAIN death. Not danger. Put your SSN on your arm so we can ID your body if you stay. Turned out hardly anyone died and Geraldo was over at the Holiday Inn on the seawall.
One guy at Surfside decided to stay on the porch and get drunk. That's where they found him, still on his porch and still drunk after the storm passed.
So far the death toll is less on the Gulf Coast than the toll of the California Train wreck...caused by texting.
Let's get a drink. The Government has it's head up its ass.
I don't think there is a way to fix this except gunpoint evacuations. I'd sooner have folks drown than ratchet up Gov power in these cases. Let people make choices, even stupid ones. If you leave, they are just going to steal your guns and not let you go back in. Screw 'em.

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Augetter said...

Consider some of the war time situations of evacuation versus staying put. How many die on the road versus how many die during the battle. The sense of security we have in our familiar surroundings will many times trump the "you are going to die" warnings of the government. These feelings are hard wired into our brain becaues it has in the past been a method od survival of the species. Now consider birds. The first sign of really bad weather they are gone. It works for them because they can out fly most dangers. We know that you can't out run trouble on foot. Give us another million years with cars that might change.

4:34 PM  
Blogger mike's spot said...

I think a lot of people are afraid their property will be looted if they leave. No one wants to be the first out for fear of ransacking- then if they do see it'll be bad- they catch the mass exodus and get jammed.

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Joseph said...

My roommate is barely ambulatory, with IDDM, Lupus and severe rheumatoid arthritis. Transporting her would be difficult by public transport (excepting medivac helicopter). Depending on how much time we had, and the type of impending disaster, staying might be a better option. But certainly not always!! The status of refugees in public shelters is usually pretty bad. Not to mention, I would be forced to surrender my weapons and therefore be unable to protect her or myself. It is much better if you have freinds/family you can stay with locally.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Redneck Neighbor said...

I have to agree that in today's sue happy blame everyone else society it's par for "officials" to go to unnecessary extremes. I think one reason is if they scream for everyone to run for the hills then they cover their butts. If it turns out that an all out evacuation is unnecessary then they can just claim that they were watching out for everyones best interest & that was more important than the potential costs of time & money incurred. On the flip-side if they didn't send everyone to the hills & a catastrophe struck then at best they will be out of a job, at worst they would be dead. So it's "safer" to just build everything up as that scary beast under your bed so you'll be afraid.

There are other times that I honestly believe that the politicians just want the camera time. The media knows that "the storm of the century" is going to get more listeners & readers than "a big nasty potential storm." Politicians know this too & they obviously want to be seen as great leaders during these times. So they get in front of the cameras & lay it on pretty thick. Sometimes warranted....usually it's not though.

6:08 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

I am a long time reader of your blog, and I find your point that the authorities should evaluate how they order evacuations kind of contradictory.

You seem to espouse the "Treat me with benign neglect" doctrine towards the government for pretty much everything else. What is so different about this?

I would think that the government's responsibility would be to inform and notify people, and then assist the people if they want the help. I don't really see how it can be the government's responsibility to get people to agree with what they are being told.

As to your questions about why think the way they do, who knows? Millions of people will vote for Obama this November, and that fact baffles me to no end as well.

I really don't think the blame here lies with the government. There are only so many ways to say "Leave this area or you are likely to die". The rest is up to the individual person.

The only sure-fire government action to save lives would be to send either troops or cops door to door forcing people to leave, and I don't imagine you would endorse that solution.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

"are these people simply stubbornly refusing to evacuate because they know they can refuse? Is it a childish aversion to authority telling them what they should do? Are they acting on emotions rather than logic? I do not know. I do think that the authorities need to take a hard sociological look at this phenomenon and make adjustments in how they recommend and order evacuations. If they do not, the death toll will only rise."

You hit on some of the reasons why the other day, when you had that picture of a sign on the outside of a disaster shelter.

It didn't allow pets or guns inside... If you don't have a place to take all that you hold dear (or bitterly cling to), why bother leaving home?

6:41 PM  
Blogger Medic2RN said...

Perhaps "certain death" should be changed to "YOU WILL DIE!" Three words, all three letters. Simple, right? Or will that offend someone?

Stay Safe.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

You have a point Brad.

When I am alone, then the decisions I make affect only me. When I am a father, my decisions affect the innocent lives entrusted to me. I just hate finding the bodies of dead children among the wreckage.

7:07 PM  
Blogger JAFO said...

I think it's very much the sort of thing that was referred to in that short story you read in grade school: "To build a Fire".

In it, the main character dies due to his own inability to imagine the consequences of his action or inaction.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out this crazy hardhead!

8:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me it's simple. The government lies so much it is hard to take anything they say seriously anymore. The more observant people will know that scaremongering is the main method used to control people. We see them do this all the time. So by the time a bad hurricane comes, they have cried wolf so many times they aren't taken seriously. Also, after Katrina, with all the crap that went on, gun grabbing, FEMA herding people into camps, kicking in people's doors, who the hell wants to leave their homes to the mercy of these government people? They could come back and find the place ransacked or worse yet, bulldozed.

8:52 PM  
Blogger Sevesteen said...

In the midwest, we have fairly frequent severe thunderstorm warnings, complete with emergency broadcast system tones. None of these have ever been something I'd need to take action over--I can figure out to avoid being outside unnecessarily during a thunderstorm by myself.

Another problem is that people don't understand probability--If there is a 10% probability of significant death or serious injury, that's more than enough to evacuate--But many people are more likely to say "they got it completely wrong last time, I"m not leaving".

9:20 PM  
Blogger be603 said...

Ya might be overthinking it Shipmate.

Could just be the chlorine in the gene pool doing it's work.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

There are those who don't have the means to evacuate (example: Katrina) but then there are others with the means, but decide to stay.

There are anti-government types who refuse to evacuate, and then whine for the government to evacuate them after the storm hits. Their hypocrisy is staggering.

Fear of losing your stuff to looters? That's why I have insurance. My property is not worth my life, or anyone else's.

6:36 AM  
Blogger Rorschach said...

While I will not defend the stupidity of staying when you live in a tidal surge zone as many did, I will state that many people on High Island and the Bolivar Penninsula were overtaken by events. There are only two ways off the Penninsula, a ferry, and a single Farm to Market Highway. Many people planned to leave Friday morning after having worked all day Thursday, they went home to pack up and prepare. TXDOT, which operates the ferry unexpectedly halted operations early Friday morning while many people were completing preparations to leave. That left only the farm to market Highway. That road began to flood friday morning as well, trapping a number of people who's employers refused to allow them to leave work early Thursday to make their own preparations for the storm. many of these people are refinery workers who were working long hours preparing the refineries for shutdown prior to the arrival of the storm.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a lot of the blame should be placed on how the media handles the coming storms. I live in N. Houston and we did not evacuate for two reasons. One was to protect our property from looters. The other was what happened when we tried to evacuate for Rita. It was a huge mess and the storm barely touched us. The media makes such a big deal out of storms that don't even hit us. Remember Gustav? That was the hurricane that sprinkled on Houston, but if you watched the news in the days before, by God, the world was coming to an end. Now they are saying Galveston is in ruins, there's nothing left. Today the mayor had a press conference and told the residence don't believe the media. Parts of Galveston were destroyed, but much of the island can be salvaged. She is hoping for people to be able to come home in 7-10 days. But if you watch the news coverage, there is nothing left. All they dwell on is the bad. I did hear about a lot of people who planned to leave Friday morning, but when they woke up the start of the storm surge was there and the roads weren't passable so they were trapped.

5:52 PM  
Blogger Rorschach said...

I will add that the first night after the storm, shots were heard a few streets over from me. since then, I have been sleeping with the S&W .357 ready

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's called "freedom" people. The freedom to choose your own fate whether it results in life or death. We Americans have come to depend on "authority" to the point that when somebody ignores it, they are ridiculed and lambasted by everyone else as a trouble-maker. If there is a bomb going off under your chair, it is YOUR desicion whether or not to seek shelter or sit there.
Now. That being said, lets get on to part two of this story. Should you choose to sit there and the bomb goes off, it is in no way, anyones obligation to lift one finger to help you. Not in medical aide,not in cleaning up your scattered body parts, and certainly not in providing you or your survivors with a new chair! That is where the mistake is being made. It's not the taxpayers responsibility to bail you out. All types of natural disasters happen everyday. Government has got to STOP covering any losses of any kind. The founders never meant for this to happen. If you choose to live where hurricanes, tidal waves, forest fires, etc are a potential threat then you get what happens to you.
Wake up people. Return to freedom. Quiet calling for government (i.e., you and me) to bail all these unfortunates out evrytime the sun comes up! STOP IT NOW!

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I stayed for Katrina because I didn't have money or transportation to leave. I stayed eight days and finally did evacuate. Although my apartment and everything in it - furniture, clothes, tv, etc., etc.. was destroyed, I received NOTHING from the government. Not one red cent.

Yes, I heard the stories of people abusing FEMA and getting all sorts of ridiculous amounts of money from them. But there were plenty of us who had major losses and didn't get anything in return, due to technicalities.

So when the media told me Gustav was the "mother of all storms," I packed up what I could and left the best I could. It cost money to do that, which I had to borrow from my family... and it turns out my new apartment never even lost electricity.

For me, if another "mother of all storms" comes, I will stay right where I am. I don't have near what I had before Katrina, and I'm not afraid of looters. I'm disabled and an old fart and I am staying put. Like Captain Dan said in "Forrest Gump": Bring it on! I do not "selfishly consume" resources the government brings in to help stranded people. If a storm comes I go to the store and make sure I have enough supplies for a month or more.

So there are some of us who aren't just "waiting for that government check" and "hoping" the storm does damage so that I might get a fat payoff from some government agency. It takes all I have to maintain my home, and I know from experience I am not one of the ones that will get help if something happens.

So next time Nagin and who ever else comes on TV and says the "godzilla of all storms" is coming to destroy the city... I'll be right here, with MRE's and water, a BBQ grill and a generator, and an old shotgun - asking nothing from anyone. Do I not have that right?

3:33 PM  

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