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Natural Awakenings

Disaster Fatigue Influences Decisions

Evacuation route for weather disaster

darwin brandis/Adobesstock.com

Extreme levels of stress from wildfires, hurricanes, floods and the pandemic can induce “disaster fatigue”, a form of emotional exhaustion that may reshape how people make choices. Tara Powell, a behavioral health expert at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, states that there isn’t a single strategy for combating disaster fatigue, but current studies could help researchers and emergency planners customize interventions to aid specific communities and individuals, helping them prepare for impending disasters and recovery afterward. The condition can have major implications for emergency planners trying to encourage people to get out of harm’s way.

Jennifer Collins, a severe weather scientist at the University of South Florida, and her collaborators received more than 7,000 responses to a survey sent to Florida residents before the last hurricane season began. Nearly 75 percent of respondents perceived the hypothetical risk of evacuating to a shelter and potentially exposing themselves to COVID-19 as more dangerous than sheltering in place. But after September’s Hurricane Laura, Collins saw shifting perceptions in 300 responses—some that said they had sheltered in place during the storm admitted they would not do so again the next time.

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