Emergency Transportation Operations

Highway Evacuations in Selected Metropolitan Areas: Assessment of Impediments

San Francisco, California

#7-Most Congested
#13-Population (4,275,000)
INRIX® National Traffic Scorecard 2009

map of San Francisco, California

The Plan

Respondents confirmed that the July 2009 State plan provided for this study is the most recent and that it serves as a model for county and local plans. The State Plan was reviewed during a 2008 grant-funded planning session and addressed in 2009 under a Grant Planning Validation Workshop. Planners review the California State plan annually, with additional planning and review sessions occurring as needed, particularly after a major incident, such as last year's wildfire-related evacuations throughout the State. Available on the California Emergency Management Agency Web site, the State plan does not address evacuations. The State did produce an evacuation Guideline document for use by local governments in developing their plans.

Interviewees noted that the Regional Catastrophic Earthquake Mass Transportation/ Evacuation Plan (January 22, 2010, DRAFT) addresses needs for a worst-case scenario, or earthquake in the San Francisco area. The regional plan incorporates the major cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose while including the surrounding nine counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma. The comprehensive plan takes into account the possibility of catastrophic damage to the existing surface transportation infrastructures. Regional Mass Evacuation Planners agree that a full evacuation of the San Francisco metropolitan area is improbable, while a more regionalized evacuation scenario is more likely. The Mass Evacuation Strategy is comprehensive and adaptive to all likely scenarios.

San Francisco 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

  • Communication Capabilities if Damaged
  • Infrastructure along Evacuation Routes: Roads, Bridges & Overpasses

Respondents identified the most significant impediments along NHS routes that may impact effective large-scale, mass evacuations from the San Francisco area as follows:

  1. Communication Capabilities if Damaged - The communications infrastructure constitutes one of the strengths of the regional plan. However, if a catastrophic event occurs and disrupts communication, this may present a significant evacuation deficiency. Efforts are underway by evacuation planning partners to improve "real-time" information exchange. The California Highway Patrol is prepared to utilize aircraft and existing systems to accomplish this effort. Efforts are underway to improve the regional communication capabilities, such as expanding use of ITS. However, expanding and upgrading regional communications capabilities involves inherent challenges due to funding constraints that limit inclusion of robust system redundancies and continuous system maintenance and operations.
  2. Infrastructure along Evacuation Routes: Roads, Bridges, and Overpasses - To date, authorities have retrofitted more than 2,000 bridges and overpasses on the State Highway System to current earthquake standards. Certain structures identified along "life-line routes" have been retrofitted or constructed to higher standards, such as the new span of the Benicia-Martinez toll bridge. Retrofit work continues on only a handful of highway bridges. While the Bay Area toll bridges in general exceed minimum standards, other more typical highway structures, which do not, may sustain damages in case of a significant seismic event, impacting respective routes and mass evacuation. Another constraint to evacuation capability is the variant changes in roadway geometrics along facilities, particularly shoulder width and number of auxiliary lanes. Authorities have investigated the potential use of contraflow schemes for mass evacuation in some areas.

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