FL - Study Investigates Hurricane Evacuations in the Era of COVID-19

TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 21)- The 2020 hurricane season is breaking records with 23 named storms, and more are projected to develop over the next few weeks.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts there will be as many as 25 by the time the season ends. Researchers say this extremely active forecast is especially troublesome due to the compounding risks of COVID-19.

USF geosciences Professor Jennifer Collins has been awarded an NSF Rapid Response grant to study evacuation behaviors during a global pandemic. Collins is examining whether people impacted by mandatory hurricane evacuations are choosing to ignore them and shelter in place due to health concerns. COVID-19 poses a unique threat since physical distancing requirements conflict with human mobility and the congregation that occurs during hurricane evacuations. The National Weather Service, Louisiana Public Health Institute and other meteorologists and emergency planners are assisting in the study by disseminating a digital survey to those impacted by Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 hurricane, which made landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 26.

"Hurricane Laura provided a unique research opportunity as it was the first hurricane that caused a large evacuation during the COVID-19 pandemic," Collins said. "Therefore, this is the first time we can explore why during COVID-19 and a major hurricane that some people chose to stay at home, some chose to go to a shelter and others chose to evacuate elsewhere."

Collins is working in collaboration with co-principal investigator Elizabeth Dunn, instructor in the USF College of Public Health. Dunn is also involved in a separate study, funded by a USF COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Grant, that investigates how to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, workforce protection and special considerations for vulnerable populations in hurricane shelters. The NSF Rapid Response team also includes USF graduate student Amy Polen and Mark Welford from the University of Northern Iowa.

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