Hurricane

What’s the difference between a ‘mandatory’ and ‘voluntary’ evacuation?

Traffic was light during the evacuation of Beaufort County just after Gov. Nikki Haley’s evacuation order went into effect on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016.
Traffic was light during the evacuation of Beaufort County just after Gov. Nikki Haley’s evacuation order went into effect on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. Staff photo

Editor’s note: In a press conference Tuesday morning, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster lifted the mandatory evacuation for Beaufort, Jasper and Colleton counties. To read more, click here.

As Hurricane Florence continues to strengthen and make its way to the East Coast, residents in parts of South and North Carolina should be prepared for a possible evacuation.

As of 11 a.m. Monday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster had not announced any evacuations for the state. But, if an order is announced, it’s important to understand the varying degrees of evacuations.

Before Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Gov. Nikki Haley was hesitant to use the term “mandatory evacuation,” because the government can’t force people to leave their homes, according to press conferences at the time.

When officials use the term “voluntary evacuation,” it means that the governor has not yet issued an official evacuation order. But still, local and state authorities typically urge residents to leave ahead of time in order to decrease traffic and panic when an official evacuation order is issued.

Along the same lines, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control warns: “If you wait for an evacuation order to be issued before beginning your preparation, it may be too late.”

When the term “mandatory evacuation” is used, it means that the governor has issued an evacuation order. The DHEC website states that: “Because of the destructive power of a hurricane, you should never ignore an evacuation order. Once an evacuation is ordered, you should leave as soon as possible.”

Still, it does not mean that local or state officials can force you to leave your home.

During an evacuation order, though, emergency services will be greatly delayed. Though residents who remain during a storm can still call 911, emergency personnel will only be able to respond depending on conditions and demand. Under a mandatory evacuation, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Management Division will urge anyone with health issues to evacuate ahead of storm.

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