Wednesday, April 23 2014, 09:23 AM MDT
Good Question: Are Mandatory Evacuations Mandatory?
By Matt Gephardt
Produced by Stephanie Clemens
Edited by Ryan Malavolta
(KUTV) This question came to me from a guy named Mehul. Mehul points out that, last week, several homes were destroyed after lightning sparked a fast moving wildfire. Most residents fled the area but others stayed behind ignoring the mandatory evacuation order. And law enforcement let it happen which raises a good question: are mandatory evacuations really mandatory?
Mandatory is not an ambiguous word. It is defined as "an authoritative command,” that a person is “required to obey.” And according to the way Utah law reads, ‘mandatory’ is an appropriate word choice.
“A person may not refuse to comply with an order to evacuate,” reads Utah code. “A person who violates this section is guilty of a class B misdemeanor.” If found guilty of breaking that law, a person could face six months in prison and a fine of $1,000.
Joe Doherty with the Utah Division of Emergency Management says that virtually no one is ever actually prosecuted for refusing to leave. But he says that fines and threats of imprisonment shouldn't be what detours people from ignoring an evacuation order.
“It’s so important for people to heed that warning,” Doherty said. "You could end up dead by not obeying an order to evacuate."
In a crisis there is never a shortage of stories of heroic acts performed by emergency teams but Doherty says, those teams are instructed to protect life. That instruction certainly includes their own.
“There will come a time in certain evacuations where first responders will not be going back into an area to pull people out because it's too dangerous for them," Doherty said.
(Copyright 2013 Sinclair Broadcasting Group)