No voluntary evacuation orders will be given if a hurricane approaches the coast from now on.

The state has done away with the voluntary orders to give more flexibility to evacuations. It’s part of a streamlining that also gives local emergency officials more say about whether to call for an evacuation in their area.

Voluntary evacuations have been sent down the road mostly because few people followed them.

When the orders were issued, traffic by and large didn’t increase, said Derrec Becker, S.C. Emergency Management Division public information coordinator. But under the protocol, public safety officers had to be posted and that wasted manpower.

The term “mandatory evacuation” won’t be used anymore either. A single evacuation will be called for by the governor’s order.

Most people won’t notice much difference, Becker said. But the change means an evacuation order might be given somewhat sooner than in the past, one more refinement to try to prevent massive, last-minute gridlock on the roads.

“If you plan to evacuate, your best bet is to leave early,” Becker said.

As a rule, voluntary evacuations were called for 36-48 hours before a storm’s predicted arrival.

“The sense we were given by the citizens was that some evacuated, the majority didn’t. When a mandatory evacuation was ordered they did,” said Cathy Haynes, Charleston County Emergency Management Department operations chief. “When the governor orders an evacuation, we hope people will take it seriously right then, not wait 12 hours to see what’s going to happen.”

How far in advance a governor’s evacuation order would be called for “depends on the storm,” Becker said, and will be decided case by case, consulting with local officials.

“The governor is still going to give the order. But if we on the local level feel we have to have an evacuation, we’ll basically request of her to do it,” Haynes said.

Hurricane evacuation zones along the coast are also being redrawn somewhat and should be available by June 1, Becker said.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.