New cellphone data shows what happens when a major storm threatens Florida
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Cellphone data is giving emergency planners new insight into what happens when a major storm threatens Florida.

Researchers at the University of Central Florida tracked thousands of devices in the days surrounding hurricanes Matthew, Irma and Michael.

They found on average only about one in four evacuated, meaning the majority of cellphone users stayed home.

In 2016, 16% of people potentially at risk during Matthew evacuated before it skirted the east coast.

In 2017, 29% left before Irma hit and 24% fled the Panhandle before a direct hit from Michael in 2018.

This is the first major update of its kind since 2010 when the Florida Department of Transportation conducted its own study.

Since then, the state experienced a 17% growth in population, meaning millions of newer residents who have limited experience dealing with hurricanes.

This is the first behavioral study of its kind in more than a decade.

RELATED: Download & Save The Weather Authority’s Hurricane Survival Guide | Know your zone

Researchers hope it will help state and local agencies predict what will happen when Florida inevitably faces its next hurricane.

“Be Prepared” are the words on the sign outside the Clay County Emergency Services Center.

Director John Ward said he hopes people will listen when an evacuation order is given, but unfortunately, a lot of people don’t.

“They can hunker down. They don’t worry about all the different factors,” Ward said. “One of the biggest issues we deal with is storm surge and flooding.”

Even on a relatively sunny day, it’s obvious how easily some parts of Clay County can flood.

“What we say is if you flood on an afternoon thunderstorm, you’ll flood during a hurricane,” Ward warned.

Which was the case with Hurricane Irma. Clay County first responders had to rescue 368 people from rooftops and front porches because they would not evacuate.

The Department of Transportation has looked into why people don’t evacuate.

It found that 18% didn’t want to leave their homes or underestimated the severity of the hurricane. Another 8% could not afford to leave or had nowhere to stay.

Other reasons for not evacuating:

  • My job required me to stay

  • No access to shelters that allow pets

  • No transportation

  • No shelter availability

  • A family member or friend too sick to leave

If you do not know if you’re in an evacuation zone, you can check out the Florida Disaster page to know your zone.

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