Calling it “semantics,” Mayor Lenny Curry did not use the word “mandatory” in his evacuation order Wednesday.
Instead, he urged all residents of Zones A and B – red and orange zones on the Duval County Evacuation map – to leave. That includes all of the three Beaches communities, and most low-lying, flood-prone areas.
“If someone does not evacuate the Beaches, are we going to go in and find them or enforce a law against them?" Curry responded when asked why he wasn’t making the evacuation mandatory. “No. But they will have no access -- it’s important that they know this – they will have no access to public safety workers, or any other government needs that they may need, particularly during a storm or after a storm.”
In fact, the ability of officials to force evacuation is somewhat limited. According to Florida Emergency Management guides, a mandatory evacuation “is a situation where emergency management officials put maximum emphasis on encouraging evacuation and limiting ingress to potentially affected areas" (emphasis added).
According to the American Bar Association, “the authority to effect a mandatory evacuation has its roots in sovereign authority and the police power.” It’s been used in wartime, as when the government forcibly removed a sheep herder from the Alaskan Peninsula in World War II, when Japan was threatening that area.
It's also a tool to protect communities from the ravages of disease or disaster. The day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered the city's first ever mandatory evacuation. He sent empty busses and crews with bullhorns to prod people out of their neighborhoods, but not everyone left.
After the storm, fearing the spread of water-borne illness, structural instability, and general civic disorder, police and National Guardsmen tried to enforce the evacuation order, but for the most part, didn't arrest people for staying. (The arrest of Patty Konie was a notable exception.)
Florida Rep. Everett Rice, a former sheriff Pinellas County Sheriff, said at the time that arresting New Orleans residents for staying in their own homes would be unpopular in the extreme. "That's got to be one of the worst-case scenarios for law enforcement officials," he told the St. Petersburg Times. “What are they going to do with those that resist? Shoot them?”
Some coastal cities in Virginia have fought intransigent residents with something called the “Magic Marker Strategy” If people resist pleas to leave, rescue workers give them Magic Markers and make them write their Social Security numbers on their body so it can be identified.
Despite official urging and real safety concerns, there will always be some people who will not want to evacuate. In those cases, Mayor Curry made clear, concern shifts from the resident to the life of first responders. "We will not put our workers in harms way."
“Will there be inconvenience?” the mayor asked. “Absolutely. There is a storm a big storm headed our way, we have to expect some inconvenience. We are prepared for it asking the people of Jacksonville to prepare for it and minimize it and mitigate it. So let’s all do our part.”