Researchers track impact of COVID-19 on hurricane preparations, evacuations

At the start of an extremely active hurricane season, Floridians shared their thoughts on evacuations amid the threat of COVID-19 as part of a research study conducted by the University of South Florida.

“Over 74% of people viewed the risk of being in a shelter during the pandemic as more dangerous than actually enduring the hurricane hazards,” said Jennifer Collins, a professor of geoscience at USF.

Collins is studying evacuation behavior during the pandemic and started with about 7,000 responses from Floridians, surveying people’s intentions before a hurricane.

“Also there was a significant amount of people who said they would have utilized a public shelter before COVID-19, but they would not choose to do so now because of the coronavirus,” said Collins.

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She is also following what happens after a storm hits.

In August, Hurricane Laura gave a first look at how people responded and some chose not to leave their homes.

“With Hurricane Laura, one person said they would not stay again. It was very scary, they could have been killed,” said Collins.

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In the last two months of research, about 1,200 people who went through Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Sally have shared their evacuation experiences. Collins is working with USF College of Public Health instructor Elizabeth Dunn on the research.

“As we analyze this data and look at the experiences of those who went to a hotel that the government provided them that as a shelter, that’s something that Florida has discussed,” Collins said.

She said Florida emergency management officials can use that information to figure out what resources they need.

“I think that Florida as well as other states are looking to see how those situations played out,” said Collins.

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It’s a balance that comes with challenges while managing a public health emergency.

“When Hurricane Laura hit and people were without power for weeks, one person reported to me that COVID-19 was the last thing on people’s minds as they are literally in survival mode,” said Collins.

Collins said they are putting together the preliminary data now and will have that available for agencies to consider. She said they plan to keep the survey going through the next couple of months.

Anyone who was impacted by those hurricanes is asked to take the survey.

For Hurricane Sally, visit

For Hurricane Laura, visit