Emergency Transportation Operations

Highway Evacuations in Selected Metropolitan Areas: Assessment of Impediments

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota

#12-Most Congested
#16-Population (3,230,000)
INRIX® National Traffic Scorecard 2009

map of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota

The Plan

Officials developed the Metro Evacuation Traffic Management Plan in 2005. Respondents noted that this plan serves more as a traffic layout/plan, or only one piece of the puzzle when discussing evacuations. The Metro Evacuation Traffic Management Plan covers multiple jurisdictions and exceeds the boundaries of the cities of Minneapolis and St Paul. The development of this plan included the nine counties within the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area (Hennepin, Dakota, Ramsey, Washington, Scott, Anoka, Wright, Carver, and Chisago).

The Director of the Office of Emergency Management in St. Paul concurred that the 2005 plan submitted for this review is only a traffic study that all agreed served as a good starting point for the traffic management aspect of a comprehensive regional evacuation plan. He noted that moving forward proved difficult for three reasons:

  • The 2005 regional evacuation planning effort has been suspended, as at this time, stakeholders have allocated staffing resources to higher priority projects.
  • Planners struggle to identify scenarios that would require a mass evacuation - an entire city or a major portion of the metro region. It's been difficult to develop a credible scenario that would require evacuation of the entire metro area.
  • Planning efforts are not well-coordinated. The approach has been piece-meal, and if it must be done, the region must dedicate significant resources and support a concerted effort to address all of the areas.

Officials recently renewed efforts to restart efforts to revise the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Regional Evacuation Plan, which is the transportation component mentioned above. Updating this plan is a combined effort by the counties, cities and Minnesota DOT (MnDOT). Respondents noted that the new version should incorporate a traffic routing tool produced by the University of Minnesota to aid in evacuation efforts. The MnDOT would manage the tool and the plan.

One interviewee noted that evacuation planning to date has taken a local/sub-regional perspective focused on high-risk areas or areas with large people concentrations. These plans focus on evacuating several blocks, not the whole metro region. One of the respondents observed that if a mass evacuation was needed, the NHS routes would quickly fill not because of impediments, but because the NHS alone cannot serve the role by itself and must be supported by the overall transportation system.

A respondent from the city of Minneapolis noted that they have a tremendous amount of evacuation experience. He relayed a local-level scenario, stating that the city conducted a mass evacuation and a shelter-in-place operation for "one of our Hawkins Chemical fires." One of the first actions taken by the fire department was to pull situation maps that were laminated based on "box-runs" — a system set up in the late 1890s that's still in place today. For this particular incident, box 419A, this means 4th district, 19th ward which is a footprint within the city. The city used these maps as a template to go door to door to notify the public of their order to evacuate or shelter-in-place. In conjunction with that, he noted that the city is working with the MnDOT on maps and strategies.

It appears that evacuation planning is moving forward in the region. Minneapolis-St. Paul and Minnesota officials provided several late 2009 and early 2010 products for this study that demonstrate forward movement in the construction of a Regional Evacuation Plan. The products indicate that the new plan will include more than transportation route plans.

Top Highway Impediments

Top Highway Impediments

  • Infrastructure Capacity & Congestion
  • Lack of Coordinated Plan & Universal Agreement on the Benefits of Evacuation
  • Disconnected Transportation and Emergency Operations Centers
  • Need for More Signage & Public Education
  • Coordination of Signal Timing Plans
  • Address Equipment Gaps for Pedestrian Movements
  • Develop Multiple Options for River Crossing

Those interviewed identified the following as potential impediments to a large-scale, mass evacuation in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region:

  1. Infrastructure Capacity and Congestion - Roadways are currently congested. There is no capacity in the system for accommodating large numbers of people and vehicles.
  2. Lack of Coordinated Planning and a Universal Agreement on the Benefits of Evacuation - One respondent noted that "evacuation" is not a universally acceptable public protection action. The individual continued to explain that there are other more feasible actions that may have higher priority and effectiveness. A MnDOT respondent noted that MnDOT can identify choke points, but MnDOT does not control citywide evacuations. The Twin Cities area mass exodus scenario has not been a critical issue in MnDOT's planning activities.
  3. Disconnected Transportation and Emergency Operations Centers - TMCs and local Emergency Operations Centers are not connected except by phone. As a result, emergency responders and managers lack good situational data to create a common operational picture.
  4. Need More Signage and Public Education - The public needs to know what to do, in the event an evacuation is ordered. Moreover, the region needs more signs on certain routes and increased DMS capabilities to give direction to the public during an evacuation.
  5. Coordination of Signal Timing Plans - Authorities noted that effective signal timing involved multijurisdictional coordination.
  6. Address Equipment Gaps for Pedestrian Movement - Authorities should address equipment gaps that support pedestrian traffic, which will be significant during an evacuation of the Central Business Districts in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.
  7. Develop Multiple Options for River Crossing - Planners should consider non-traditional river crossing options, particularly between the Twin Cities Central Business Districts.

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