Analysis & Opinions - The Atlantic

The Never-Ending Debate Over Who Deserves to Be Rescued

| July 02, 2023

In 2017, as Hurricane Harvey came barreling toward Texas, Patrick Rios, the mayor of a coastal community called Rockport, had a morbid message for residents who might consider ignoring an evacuation order. "We're suggesting if people are going to stay here, mark their arm with a Sharpie marker with their name and Social Security number," Rios warned would-be holdouts. No first responders' lives would be risked to help them, and should they die, the marking would help identify them. 

Whether Rios's description actually dissuaded residents from waiting out a hurricane at home is difficult to measure, but now it is a common refrain when hurricanes approach. When peopleciting an aversion to government mandates, a fear of leaving their home, an eagerness to protect their pets, or just a desire to enjoy the adventure-make choices that put themselves at unreasonable risk, they need a reminder that those decisions could have horrific consequences. You want your freedom and adventure? Sure. Here's a marker.

The recent search for the Titan—an uncertified submersible craft that disappeared while carrying passengers to view the wreck of the Titanic, reportedly for $250,000 each—raised a perennial debate in the disaster-response field: How far should public agencies go in attempting to save people in harm's way? Responders are conditioned to save lives, but when individuals behave incautiously, how aggressively should rescuers work to save them? Similar questions arise on remote hiking trails in bad weather and along America's coasts every summer as hurricane season intensifies....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kayyem, Juliette.“The Never-Ending Debate Over Who Deserves to Be Rescued.” The Atlantic, July 2, 2023.

The Author

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