Harvard conducts hurricane study

July 24, 2007
Reported by Pam Dixon

Even after two major hurricanes nearly two years ago in Louisiana, a Harvard telephone survey showed one in six people in Louisiana's coastal parishes, including Cameron, would ignore government hurricane evacuation orders. Harvard professor Robert Blendon directed the study of more than five thousand people. Blendon says, "People still feel in this zone that their houses will be secure even if it's a level 3 storm and also concerns about being on the roads, crowded and dangers."

According to the poll, 17-percent of those surveyed in Louisiana would not evacuate. Dick Gremillion, director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, says he thinks more people than that would evacuate in Southwest Louisiana. Gremillion says, "I think that number would be more like one in ten based on our previous experience with Hurricane Lili and Hurricane Rita."

Several people we interviewed agreed they wouldn't stick around. Kim Bland says, "I would leave though the day the hurricane was to hit when it's not so crazy." Buddy Bolton says, "After we came back, there was no question we did the right thing."

How prepared are Louisiana residents? Jennifer Moran says, "Not too prepared. I mean I know if the time came we would get more prepared this time." Mary Ann Talbott says, "I have water. I save containers of water year round.."

The poll showed about half the people surveyed do not have enough food and water on hand for seven days. Gremillion says, "For people who don't evacuate, I'll say most people underestimate their ability to take care of themselves after an event like a hurricane."

Another troubling issue-- nearly half the people surveyed in Louisiana do not know the locations of evacuation shelters. Blendon says Louisiana does the poorest job of all the states in the poll of educating residents ahead of time about the shelters.

Harvard researchers are hoping first responders and people on the front line will use the results of the poll to better prepare citizens and help saves lives in the event of another big storm.