Crying wolf: Repeat responses to hurricane evacuation orders

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Coastal Zone Management Journal (1998)



evacuation behavior; Hurricane Bertha; Hurricane Fran; risk decision making; South Carolina


This article examines the evacuation behavior of residents in two South Carolina communities, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach, during the 1996 hurricane season. Two hurricanes that approached South Carolina but hit in North Carolina allowed us to study the impact of repeated “false alarms”; (evacuations ordered based on expectations of a hurricane landfall that proved to be wrong). Differences in evacuation behavior, specific information and concerns prompting evacuation, and the reliability of information sources between hurricane events are examined to determine the impact of false alarms on the credibility of warning systems. Data were derived from a face-to-face survey of residents 2 weeks after Hurricane Fran in September 1996. We found that the role of official advisories was more limited than reported in previous research as people sought information on more diverse sets of concerns in their decision making. Reliance on the media and the Weather Channel, in particular, for storm characteristics and advisories was an important factor in evacuation decision making during both hurricane events. The perceived lack of reliability of gubernatorial warnings coupled with dependence on the media suggests that residents find other sources of information more personally relevant. Thus, while residents do not find that officials are “crying wolf,”; they are searching elsewhere for information to assess their own risk—what does it mean to me if there is a wolf? This increased attention toward individual differences in perceived threat may become more pronounced in future evacuations from hurricanes.