"If you live in an evacuation zone, your plan should be to evacuate if an order comes," Fugate said. "There is a point that local responders will not be able to get to you if it gets too bad."
Fugate's voice seemed tinged with frustration, irritation and, perhaps, resignation. It's a common disaster scenario, be it wildfire, flooding or hurricanes: Some residents refuse to evacuate until it's too late. And, officials stress, that puts emergency works in a quandary and drains valuable resources.
Fugate recalled just such a scenario in the wake of Hurricane Ivan. That 2004 storm killed nearly 100 people as it traveled a similar course, ripping through the Caribbean on up through the East Coast. Ivan remains of the most intense and costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. People who refused to evacuate during that storm soon found themselves stranded on roads that were cut off due to water that was rising -- and rising fast. "And they're calling 911, begging to be saved, and no one could get to them," Fugate said. "This is really about life safety."