Emergency Transportation Operations

Highway Evacuations in Selected Metropolitan Areas: Assessment of Impediments

New York, New York

#2-Most Congested
#1-Population (19,007,000)
INRIX® National Traffic Scorecard 2009

map of New York, New York

The Plan

The New York State DOT (NYSDOT) supports local agencies in the New York City (NYC) region in their evacuation planning. In New York State, such planning is handled by individual localities.

Respondents noted that some of the local jurisdictions maintain very robust plans, but the authorities coordinate the plans largely through the county. All plans are updated on an annual basis and reviewed as needed. Current efforts include evacuation planning for lower Hudson Valley, NYC, Long Island coordinated by the Regional Catastrophic Planning Team (RCPT), Regional Evacuation Liaison Team (RELT) and the group from the Hudson Valley TMC.

The respondent from the NYC Office of Emergency Management commented that the NYC plan extends beyond the five boroughs in a couple of ways:

  1. The hurricane evacuation study conducted for the region covered NYC, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties, so clearance times of these areas serve as a foundation for timelines and decision-making.
  2. The plan factors in traffic from Long Island through NYC, which makes the plan regional in nature.
  3. Developing the NYC plan involved working closely with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the Port Authority and their transportation assets which extend upstate.
  4. The plan addresses the operations of the RELT, which is a regional coordination mechanism.

Figure 5. Pedestrian Evacuation after 9/11 Terrorist Attack on NYC
Figure 5. Pedestrian Evacuation after 9/11 Terrorist Attack on NYC

A combination of the regional plans developed for jurisdictions within the NYC metropolitan area have been coordinated with outside jurisdictions. All planning efforts include coordination with organizations that serve multiple jurisdictions in the area, such as MTA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for very practical operational purposes. For example, if MTA or Port Authority bridges are to close, information must be relayed to Long Island authorities about 3 to 6 hours before the closure to ensure that people using these facilities have enough time to evacuate or do not journey to these facilities only to find that bridges are closed, and they are stranded. Another example includes Nassau and Suffolk counties, which based their plans on a 120-hour, advance-notice coastal storm that would trigger an evacuation. Most of the transportation agencies for rail and buses as well as the electrical provider, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), coordinate closely with each other because of the time involved in getting the rolling stock secured and out of surge zones. Most plans tend to be coastal storm oriented. Future plan improvements will address intermodal coordination and intergovernmental coordination.

New York City 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, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Boston, Honolulu, Norfolk, and Seattle.

Top Highway Impediments

Top Highway Impediments

  • Infrastructure Condition & Limitations
  • Need Improved Coordination between State/Local Transportation Officials and Responders
  • Limited Deployment of ITS Impact on Sharing Situational Awareness Data
  • Weather Impacts
  • Need for Public Information Campaign

Respondents noted the following impediments might frustrate the evacuation of the New York City metropolitan area:

  1. Infrastructure Condition and Limitations - The condition of the roadway infrastructure within NYC (vertical clearance restrictions, bridge loading limitations) would frustrate evacuation operations. Limitations associated with transportation infrastructure (e.g., limited bridge/tunnel capacity) and facilities—especially in the Central Business District in Manhattan—would impede a mass evacuation of people from NYC. Within the NYC network, there are a number of transportation agencies that manage facilities that connect to State highways. One respondent noted that they are moving toward some type of integration between the NYC and NYSDOT facilities. Moreover the area lacks gates to inhibit traffic flow when needed for an evacuation or other traffic incidents. The limited infrastructure would impede emergency responders—including transportation authorities—from conducting logistics support operations on the roadways, including towing, safety/service patrols, gasoline trucks or City National Guard (CNG) transporters.
  2. Need Improved Coordination between State/Local Transportation Officials and Responders - The coordination between State and local transportation, law enforcement, and response agencies in the region could be improved. Moreover, State and local DOTs require close coordination during disaster responses or major road incidents. One interviewee noted that the jurisdictions surrounding NYC, but considered part of the region, are somewhat different than other regions because they do not have their own maintenance forces and depend on NYC DOT for support. He noted that the jurisdictions contract for highway maintenance, but do not maintain in-house forces. As such, maintenance requires coordination and planning, which is as not easy when an emergency occurs. Planners should collectively look at timelines, including evacuation start vs. time needed to move all people.
  3. Limited Deployment of ITS Impact on Sharing Situational Awareness Data - The ability to collect and disseminate real-time traffic information to the public due to the limited deployment of ITS technologies. An ITS deployment covers just under 200 center lane miles with some type of ITS deployed on about 140 miles. One interviewee noted that this constitutes about 2/3rds of the planned deployment program. Another respondent shared that the City embarked on an effort to develop the NY Metro Transportation Project, a real-time common operating environment to be shared among the operations agencies. The NYSDOT is working closely with the Army Corp of Engineers to develop decision-making tools to provide more real-time insights into each agency's operations. This project will use freeway management data sharing components to capture information and provide it quickly to all users.
  4. Weather Impacts - During coastal storms, the approaches to bridges to the mainland and other low-lying roads flood, and high winds cause the closing or slowing of traffic on bridges to the mainland.
  5. Need for Public Information Campaign - Respondents noted that the public would benefit from a public information campaign. Many area residents lack knowledge of planned shelter locations and when to begin an evacuation. A public education campaign could reduce the effect shadow evacuations could have from clogging roads and transportation networks.

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