Our ability to predict and track hurricanes and major storms has grown in recent years. But our understanding of how people in our communities will react to warnings and what their needs might be has great room for improvement, according to this analysis by Joshua Behr and Rafael Diaz , research professors at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center at Old Dominion University.
Through news media images, the public has a deep awareness of the fragile nature of our built environment and infrastructure, the authors point out. But in their view a realistic understanding of vulnerability must also consider the resources, social ties and special needs of households and neighborhoods. They urge “a radical shift in emergency planning thinking” to take into account post-storm community vulnerabilities such as disrupted medical care and loss of pay.
Americans have a false perception that people who are most vulnerable to a severe storm, such as the elderly and medically needy, will be likely to evacuate to safety, Behr and Diaz write. In addition, they observe, “We also know that frequent encounters with ‘close call’ storms may engender household complacency and a false sense of security in dealing with the next storm event.
Behr and Diza write that some households, such as those including people with medical conditions or disability, coupled with limited financial resources, are “hyper-vulnerable.”
Using a hypothetical major storm scenario they dub “Sandtrina,” the authors conclude that even after proper warning, the eastern areas of Virginia and North Carolina would be highly vulnerable in many ways besides loss of buildings and infrastructure.