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Fail to flee, pay to be rescued?

Should those who ignore evacuation orders have to pay when first responders have to save them from harm?

By Karen Datko Nov 6, 2012 4:03PM

Image: Traffic © Pixtal, SuperStockA story on about a couple who didn't evacuate Beach Haven, N.J., as Hurricane Sandy bore down drew plenty of ridicule from readers. "They should have to sign a 'I won't be rescued' agreement, sad putting first responders at risk," one wrote.


The majority of people ordered to evacuate as Sandy approached used common sense and fled. Others didn't and had to be rescued. Some paid with their lives.


So you have to wonder: Should those who ignore evacuation orders have to pay when first responders are forced to save them from harm?


Here are some other examples of people who stayed:


One Brigantine couple who decided not to leave "called 911 around 1 p.m. Monday when their storm door blew off and winds and rain swept through the house. But police were unable to reach them, and the couple 'went upstairs and rode it out,'" another story said.


The Long Island Press documented the rescue of 34 people who had refused to leave.

"Suffolk County police lost an SUV in (Fire Island) flooding while rescuing 14 people west of Ocean Beach on Monday. Seventeen people were rescued Tuesday from Cherry Grove, along with 10 pets. Bellone said a family of three was rescued from an unspecified community Wednesday."

In Atlantic City, N.J., rescuers had to use lifeboats to remove stragglers from their homes before the storm made landfall.


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called a decision to ignore evacuation orders "stupid." New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called it "very selfish." We agree. But not everyone sees it that way. Some think it's an expression of freedom. Dagnabit, Americans have the right to be stupid.


"As storm cleanup continues, so also does the moral debate," said Religion News Service. "The idea of evacuation as a moral duty has gained traction among some local officials, theologians and hurricane survivors. But others find the notion misguided, uncompassionate and a threat to individual liberties."

Normally the debate about paying to be rescued arises when a hiker or skier gets into a difficult spot in dangerous terrain -- particularly when the person ignored multiple warnings to stay away.


While a handful of states have laws that permit a charge for search and rescue operations, many in the field think it would discourage people from calling for help.


"We know that when people believe that they are going to receive a large bill for a SAR mission, they delay a call for help or they refuse to call for help," Howard Paul, former president of the Colorado Search and Rescue Board, told Time several years ago.


On the other hand, knowing that they could face a bill or a fine might make more people inclined to comply with an order to leave. But there will always be obstinate folks who put themselves above the safety of others.


In a forum on a similar question on WebMD, a participant who described himself as a former NYC firefighter of 25 years wrote:

"Should the city/county have to provide rescue services if you refuse to evacuate? Yes, absolutely, but if you were ordered to evacuate and refused, you should also receive a citation, a fine, and bear the cost of the rescue. A disaster like this is hard on everyone, but put yourself in the shoes of the people tasked with providing emergency services to you, even while their own family's property and safety is probably at the same risk."

I'm all for imposing a fine. What do you think?


More on MSN Money:



Nov 8, 2012 8:11AM
The fact of the matter is first responders save stupid people all the time. As far as this question goes, if a mandatory evacuation is in place; yes they should pay. Maybe if Governor Christie had said before the storm "if you live in the evacuation area and do not evacuate there will be a $5,000 fee per person if you need to be recused".      
Nov 8, 2012 8:09AM
They already did pay, its called taxes.
Nov 8, 2012 8:09AM
I'm a resident of Florida and I leave!  It is selfish to put someones father, mother, son or daughter in harms way to rescue you, when you should have left.  All of this over material possessions!  Material things are just that ...things.  They can be replaced.  
Nov 8, 2012 7:15AM
Years ago, I fell and broke my ankle. Called 911, an ambulance came and took me to the hospital. A month later I got a bill for over $2000.00. My tax dollars didn't cover my emergency, so why should my tax dollars cover someone else's emergency, especially when they had the opportunity to avoid their emergency. Charge them HARD!
Nov 7, 2012 8:16PM
YES, please make this law.  I am sick and tired of seeing stupid/ignorant people screaming for help and putting others at risk because they are IGNORANT enough to NOT heed to an evacuation notice.  I feel no sympathy for them and if it were me, this wouldn't be up for would be passed and a hefty fine/jail time for those who refuse to leave and call for help when their houses are filling with water.
Nov 7, 2012 12:52PM
manditory evac.. should be just that 1 year ago IREENE came through N.J. we were told 2 days in advance trouble was on its way we lost just about all material things myself my wife and my pets were safe in shelters inconvient yes met people we didn,t even know but were in the same boat not knowing what happened to our things until 3days later total distruction at least we are alive I pray that when people are told get to safety they listen mother nature is no force to challenge so don,t just to let you know!!!
Nov 7, 2012 11:52AM
Of course they should be charged for rescue expenses. 
People chose to stay.  They were duly informed, warned and encouraged to flee.  They stayed at their own risk.
We should not reward stupidity.

Nov 7, 2012 11:16AM
Of course, everyone has the right to not evacuate.  This is a free country!  But as a society, we have the right to not put additional lives at risk to bail them out.  Why is it always the ones who shriek the loudest about their rights are the first and loudest ones to shriek to get bailed out?
Nov 7, 2012 11:16AM
I have no problem with our government helping people when accidents or disasters happen. That would include a skier or two who might get stuck or stranded, or something like a tornado that is too random to prepare for in a way like a hurricane. But when you have a scenerio where there are several days notice, such as an approaching hurricane, and have been ordered to evacuate or move to approved shelter areas, and you don't. Then you are on your own until conditions are such that authorities can safely get to you. At which point I do think you should share in some cost. Granted this does mean plans need to be included to get those who don't have the ability or means to evacuate to help them prior. In addition I also think it should include some better foresight and restrictions on where people can build and/or what they can build homes out of as well as better management and planning for the future, all part of a bigger picture. But in general I agree that you can do as you wish but you are responsible and own the consquences for your actions, personally responsibitliy (and common sense), I think its time for a comeback.
Nov 7, 2012 11:13AM

We have these people called scientists...they have machines and equipment that track weather patterns...Meteorologists....Geologists....whatever else you want to call them. They are the experts that tell us "Hey folks we have a big one headed for us..."  these experts say "hey if you are in a low lying area or a flood zone, you should leave as not to put your life at risk" ...


If you listen great....if not well then you did it to yourself..Unless you are an expert you dont make self predictions! you listen to the experts. That being said, no one knows for sure what will happen in the future so if its not that bad, your luck and got over. If it is you are a **** for staying around. Either way you were warned.


Does everyone deserve help? definition of help is the WARNING you get by these experts.  If you ignore the warning then you have turned down the help. Our firefighters, policemen, and SAR teams are fathers, uncles, brothers, aunts, sisters, mothers to someone...why should their family suffer because of your ignorance!

Nov 7, 2012 10:55AM
Yosemite Park enacted similar rules due to the high cost of helicopter rescues from rock faces and such. They've billed a few climbers/hikers since and I think they should. Granted, occasionally someone gets hurt, but in the case of people who live in high risk areas (they shouldn't build there anyway) decide to ride it out and need to be hauled out, time to get out a credit card. Pay to Stay! Sadly the general mentality of most people is it's all about them with no thought as to how their actions effect others. I see it every day without fail. We have become a selfish lot. OH the humanity!
Nov 7, 2012 10:32AM

After a certain time rescuers should be stood down and they don't go until after the storm.  We should not risk additional lives to save people from their misguided desisions.  If you stay, you face the consequences of your decision.  If you die it is natural selection at work.

Nov 7, 2012 10:29AM
The type of people who would ignore a mandatory evacuation order probably wouldn't pay a SAR bill (typically tens of thousands$$).  I agree with a determination that after a certain point, we don't risk lives and if you decided to stay, then stay.
Nov 7, 2012 10:27AM

One of the hardest principals to get people to accept is that bad things can happen to them. No matter how smart they think they are. It is always the other fella that gets the "terrible storms of life" and not you personally. Yet guaranteed, sooner or later, your number is up and you best be prepared. No one gets out of life without unexpected circumstances thrust upon them that are life changing.

While charging rescued people may seem fair to some, there could be a number of reasons a person could not get out of an area, including failed rides showing up or car problems, medical, disabilities, miscommunications, waiting for family members to arrive, confusion in changes along evacuation areas, etc. In trial runs, live drills and exercises I have participated in through some of the emergency professions I've worked for as well as actual incidents, problems in communications and various unexpected or uncontrollable events were most likely to keep people from leaving an area when they needed to.

In addition, Search & Rescue is all volunteer off duty firemen, police officers, medics and military with FEMA keeping on hand equipment and supplies, in metal storage containers paid for worth millions of dollars. So the cost is negligible. It is more about the human risk involved. Funds have already been allocated for that year. It is afterwards for cleanup which makes the news in the millions or billions. Not the rescue costs. Maintenance for equipment needs is also budgeted for in advance, with estimates set aside.

Last, those who go out in the face of danger to help save and rescue people in need, realize that all too often people make foolish choices and put themselves at risk. Sometimes, it costs their life. It isn't just during major storms, but everyday across this nation. Will billing people for rescuing them, lead them to think twice before making a stupid choice? Probably not. Fools have been with us from the dawn of time.

The heart of the volunteer who goes out to save that person, despite himself, is noble indeed. When most others would say, just let him die, he deserves what he gets. The capacity to forgive and give that fella a second chance, maybe to be more wiser, is truly a wonderful gift to have. Perhaps because, after all, haven't we all acted foolish at some point in our lives and just gotten lucky we didn't need rescuing? Or maybe we did, and just forgotten. Second chances sometimes are priceless especially when they are least deserved.

Nov 7, 2012 10:14AM
The gene pool could stand some cleansing anyway.  Let the stupid people die if they choose.  Don't put others in harm's way to save them.
Nov 7, 2012 10:01AM
They should tell everyone who stays that they have to have $5000 cash to get rescued
Nov 7, 2012 9:58AM
If you are stupid and decide to ignore mandatory evacuations then you deserve what you get. If you want your civil liberties to be an issue then you can be responsible for yourself when you get stuck. Don't call for help just because you are an idiot. And if people do come to rescue your stupid **** then yes you should pay through the nose for it. Other people shouldn't have to risk their lives because you just didn't feel like getting out of harms way. People keep talking about their rights being taken away if they are forced to evacuate. I have yet to see any of these people bring up the idea of personal responsibility. This goes hand in hand with your "liberty".
Nov 7, 2012 9:42AM
I'm in amazement at what our tax dollars are spent on.  If a person is ordered to evacuate and they ignore this order putting others at risk then by all means they should have to pay for that decision.  It's not fair to the public or the search and rescue teams. It is nothing but a selfish act. I understand that people want to stay and protect their property from looters and what not but at the end of the day is all of the "stuff" worth someones life? Fine them and take it from the insurance check they get for their proerty.  It sounds mean but thier own actions caused for them to need rescue...Face the consequences.
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