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USF Survey Shows Many Still Wary Of Hurricane Shelters During Pandemic

Residents take shelter in Broward County's Falcon Cove Middle School during Hurricane Irma in September.
Residents take shelter in Broward County's Falcon Cove Middle School during Hurricane Irma in September.

Preliminary findings of a survey by the University of South Florida show there has been little change in how people feel about the safety of hurricane shelters during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, USF researchers, led by Jennifer Collins, a professor in the School of Geosciences, and Elizabeth Dunn, an instructor in the College of Public Health, conducted a survey that more than 7,000 individuals participated in.

Results showed that 74 percent of the people surveyed said they felt at greater risk while being in a shelter from COVID-19 than from staying in their own home during a hurricane.

Although a vaccine is now available, and 70 percent of those surveyed this year have received at least one of their shots, Collins said there has been very little change in those feelings.

“It was shown that vaccination didn’t impact the decision to evacuate or not,” said Collins. “Very similar to 2020, people who would’ve used a shelter in the past still indicated that they probably would not during a pandemic.”

The early findings mirror a survey released this week by AAA that found 29 percent of the people they questioned would not evacuate their home if they were told to, and 60 percent would do so only if it was a Category 3 storm or higher.

“It’s really important to reinforce that shelters really are a safe alternative when you're considering storm surge, and if you're in an area that's ordered to evacuate,” she insisted.

With the 2021 hurricane season now underway, Collins adds that people should heed advice from experts like the National Hurricane Center to make decisions that can keep them safe.

“This hurricane season, again, could be more active than usual,” said Collins. “We know it only takes that one (storm). Try not to let your guard down if you kind of got away with other hurricanes in the past, because eventually the Tampa Bay region is going to get a real disaster. It's just a matter of when,” warned Collins.

The ongoing survey is open to those 18 and older until July 1, and can be found in English here, or in Spanish here.

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