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Can You Be Arrested for Not Complying With an Evacuation Order?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 07, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Wildfires in California and hurricanes in South Carolina have forced authorities in both states to issue evacuation orders. While these orders are intended to save lives, not everyone complies with evacuation orders.

So what happens if you stick around? Could police arrest you for disobeying a mandatory evacuation order?

Evacuation Authority

No one wants to be told to leave their home, especially if that home is in danger. But the root of evacuation orders is to protect the people, and state governments are allowed to create and enforce regulations that promote public safety.

All states have statutes that give their governors power to take emergency action during a disaster, and some states, like Florida, specifically allow for the governor to order mandatory evacuations. Other states, like North Carolina have an evacuation statute, making violation of an evacuation order a misdemeanor. Courts in every state have upheld these statutes, along with the government interest in preserving life.

Evacuation Enforcement

Despite strict evacuation statutes, few people are arrested for failing to comply with an order. Some statutes even have exceptions if you stay on your own property. (Although you may get arrested if you're out trying to buy beer and cigarettes during a wildfire evacuation.) The majority of arrests that happen pursuant to an evacuation are for looters taking advantage of empty homes, who are easier to spot if everyone else complies with the evacuation order.

Instead, many jurisdictions have turned to more creative means to get their point across. In 2005, Virginia rescue workers gave those resisting an evacuation order magic markers with which to write their social security numbers on their bodies so they could be identified after a hurricane. In 2011, Connecticut officials made holdouts during Hurricane Irene sign a no-rescue waiver.

Even though you may not get thrown in jail for refusing to evacuate a potential disaster area, you should comply with an evacuation order -- not only are you putting your own life in danger, but you may be endangering rescue and emergency personnel who put their lives at risk in the wake of natural disasters.

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