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Parents and children are vulnerable populations following hurricanes, and evacuation is an important safety strategy. Yet, little is known about “before the storm” stressors, particularly the surrounding evacuation, affecting families. Thus, following Hurricane Irma, we evaluated both stressful and positive aspects of the evacuation process for families, and we compared perceived safety and stress before, during, and after the hurricane across evacuating and non-evacuating families.
South Florida parents of children under age 18 years (N=554; 97% mothers) completed an online survey in the months following Hurricane Irma, assessing perceptions of stress, safety, and evacuation experiences. Quantitative data and open-ended responses were gathered.
Most families (82%) residing in mandatory evacuation zones evacuated, although many not in mandatory zones (46%) also evacuated. Parents who evacuated felt significantly safer during the storm, but more stressed before and during the storm, than non-evacuees. Evacuation-related travel and multiple family issues were rated as most stressful, although some positive aspects of evacuation were offered.
Findings have implications for emergency planners (eg, pre-/post-storm traffic flow needs, emotional needs of parents arriving at shelters) and for families (eg, importance of developing family disaster plans, controlling media exposure) to reduce evacuation stress for future storms. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2019;13:63-73)
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