University of South Carolina

USC hazards experts assist state with evacuation survey

Coastal residents are urged to respond to an upcoming mail survey about hurricane evacuation behavior that will help the state better prepare for and respond to hurricanes. University of South Carolina geographers, planners at the S.C. Emergency Management Division and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are conducting the study.

A pre-addressed and stamped return envelope will be included with the questionnaire so residents can return the survey promptly.

Residents in Jasper, Beaufort, Colleton, Charleston, Georgetown and Horry counties will receive the survey by early next week said Dr. Susan Cutter, a geography professor and director of USC’s Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute.

“It is critical to understand likely residential behavior in response to a hurricane affecting the South Carolina coast,” said Cutter, one of the world’s leading scholars on natural and manmade hazards and disasters. “This information is vital to helping local and state emergency managers better plan for evacuations. That includes determining the best location for shelters, ensuring transportation routes can accommodate mass evacuations and re-entry procedures before the next big storm impacts South Carolina.”

Cutter said South Carolina has added many residents to its already heavily populated coastal zone since the last Hurricane Evacuation Study was updated in 2000.

She and a team of geographers in the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute, part of USC’s College of Arts and Sciences, will compile and analyze the results for officials in local, state and federal emergency-management roles.

“This survey will give us insight on the expected behavior of residents in storm-surge zones. We don’t know how much information residents have, whether they know what to do or if they have ever experienced a hurricane before,” said Dr. Chris Emrich, a research assistant professor with the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute. “Most surveys don’t provide that level of detail. Our survey lets us do that fine-grain analysis.”

Cutter says she expects several changes, including an influx of new residents to the coast who may not have personal experience with hurricanes.

“We know from our research with hurricane events, such as Floyd in 1995 or Katrina in 2005, that personal experience impacts a person’s decision-making,” she said.

The USC team also expects several trends that emerged in the 1990s to have continued. Among these are families who evacuate with multiple vehicles and residents who decide to stay or go based on traditional and new media sources, rather than information from local and state officials. An increased concern for pets also is a factor Cutter expects to see.

“People are media savvy, connected to news 24/7 by cell phones and social media,” Cutter said. “Residents are using information and their own sense of danger to make decisions on whether to leave and when. This poses some interesting challenges for emergency-management officials because you don’t want people deciding to leave at the last minute.”

The Palmetto State is fortunate to have some of the nation’s top scholars in hazards research located at the state’s flagship university. It provides the state with resources most states don’t have, Cutter said.

“The partnership between USC and state government demonstrates a support for and value of the research conducted at the university that benefits the state and its residents,” said Cutter. “It’s one of the best examples of direct benefit from USC research and expertise to South Carolina.”

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 03/03/11 @ 11:30 AM | Updated: 03/03/11 @ 11:31 AM | Permalink