Vulnerability and Hurricane Evacuation Expectations in the Lower Rio Grande Valley

Y. Ge, S-K. Huang, M. K. Lindell, C. S. Prater, H-C. Wu

The Lower Rio Grande Valley (including Cameron, Willacy, and Hidalgo counties) is a fast growing region in the southernmost tip of Texas with a long coastline in the Gulf Coast. Hurricanes and the resulting floods remain critical threats to the traditionally agricultural area. Having a large population of Hispanic migrants, the Valley has substantially higher poverty rates, lower education level, larger household size, and more health challenges. Environmental and social vulnerabilities affect efficient and effective evacuations from hurricanes in terms of limited evacuation routes, shortage of evacuation resources, and needs for evacuation information dissemination. This study conducted a behavioral survey of urban areas and unincorporated colonias in the Valley, examining residents’ information sources, expected evacuation impediments, expected hurricane impacts, perceived structural vulnerability, and demographic characteristics. Urban data collected in a mail survey of 1,198 households yielded 254 valid questionnaires (response rate = 23.3%), and 227 completed questionnaires were obtained via personal contact interviews with 450 colonia households (response rate = 50.4%). By combining the two surveys, potential factors impacting residents’ evacuation expectations were examined through correlational analyses and multiple regressions. Relying on information sources such as National Hurricane Center, local TV and radio was more likely result in evacuations from major hurricanes, while the strong community network in the Valley elicited a higher likelihood of evacuations from minor storms. Expected evacuation impediments (economic impediments, traffic impediments, and border checkpoints) did not significantly affect evacuation intentions. Expected personal damage and casualties had positive correlations with evacuation expectations for the minor hurricanes. Similarly, perceived structural vulnerability also had positive correlations with evacuation expectations for minor hurricanes. Some demographic factors are negatively associated with evacuation expectations for minor storms, such as level of education, household income, and number of registered vehicles. The results of this study suggest that emergency managers need to make aggressive efforts to implement hurricane evacuation plans and allocate evacuation management resources for the vulnerable population.