Emergency Transportation Operations

Highway Evacuations in Selected Metropolitan Areas: Assessment of Impediments

Los Angeles, California

#1-Most Congested
#2-Population (12,873,000)
INRIX® National Traffic Scorecard 2009

map of Los Angeles, California

The Plan

Respondents noted that the evacuation plan is incorporated into the State Emergency Plan (SEP), which is still in draft pending official signature. Authorities last reviewed the plan in July 2009.

Those interviewed commended Los Angeles County, which has been very proactive in developing their plans and is in the process of expanding them to accommodate large-scale evacuations. The County's annex plan serves as a framework or template from which the County's various municipalities can use to incorporate their own plan. The County's mass evacuation plan is currently in draft form. The County plan generally does not extend beyond the County limits. Evacuation plans are reviewed every 3 years, or when the need presents itself after a major event. After-action reports are evaluated and may potentially affect the overall evacuation plan.

The California SEP establishes the California Emergency Functions (CA-EFs) as a key component of California's system for all-hazards emergency management. The California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA) initiated the development of the CA-EFs in cooperation with California's emergency management community including Federal, State, tribal and local governments, public/private partners and other stakeholders to ensure effective collaboration during all phases of emergency management. The development of the CA-EFs involves organization of the participating stakeholders and gradual development of emergency function components. This development also includes a process to maintain each of the CA-EFs as a permanent component of California's emergency management system.

As described in Section 13 of the SEP, the CA-EFs consist of 17 primary activities deemed essential to addressing the emergency management needs of communities in all four phases of emergency management. Based upon authorities and responsibilities, a lead agency has been designated for the development of the State government level CA-EFs. As the CA-EFs development expands to include other stakeholders from the emergency management community, the CA-EFs will determine a governance structure. The governance structure will be developed with the administrative direction of Cal EMA and be flexible to allow for the participation of future stakeholders. Evacuation Planning is one of the listed 17 CA-EFs.

Figure 3. Long Beach Evacuations from Battering Storms 2010
Figure 3. Long Beach Evacuations from Battering Storms 2010

In the Los Angeles Operational Area, an alliance of emergency responders—including but not limited to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Los Angeles County Police, Sheriff, and Fire Departments—formed to establish guidelines for mass evacuation. The Mass Evacuation Guide is almost complete. The alliance is currently working on a Mass Care and Shelter Guide. As part of the alliance's efforts, the Los Angeles City Emergency Management Department (EMD) and Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) will share responsibility for coordinating the maintenance and updates of the Guide.

Los Angeles currently benefits from a Homeland Security Grant to address evacuation planning as a part of catastrophic planning. The DHS/FEMA RCPGP provides catastrophic events planning grants to the 10 highest risk Urban Areas and surrounding regions, including: Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Boston, Honolulu, Norfolk, and Seattle.

Top Highway Impediments

Top Highway Impediments

  • Congestion & Evacuation Route Capacity
  • Communications Capabilities
  • Public Outreach & Understanding Evacuation Process

Those interviewed identified four key impediments to evacuating populations from the Los Angeles metropolitan area:

  1. Congestion and Evacuation Route Capacity - Currently identified evacuation routes are congested and often filled to capacity during peak travel periods on a daily basis. The strength of the existing evacuation plan(s) and a comprehensive communication infrastructure may serve to minimize this deficiency.
  2. Communication Capabilities - The capability or capacity of the existing communication infrastructure meets current needs, but evacuation planners stated that a failure in the communication system would have a significant impact on regional evacuation operations.
  3. Public Outreach and Understanding Evacuation Process - Officials noted that more effort in public outreach should focus on getting the public to understand the evacuation process. They cited recent mudslides as an example. A review of evacuation operations during this incident found that people may not understand when they need to evacuate and why they may not be able to return to their home when they (the homeowner) perceive the threat is over. This greatly affected evacuation operations. The public also lacks an understanding of the responsibilities of first responders versus the rights of those that do not wish to evacuate.

Figure 4. Evacuations from the 2009 Wildfires that Plagued LA County
Figure 4. Evacuations from the 2009 Wildfires that Plagued LA County

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