Using Highways During Evacuation Operations for Events with Advance Notice

Routes to Effective Evacuation Planning Primer Series

Produced in collaboration with the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office (ITS JPO)

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Evacuation Planning and Preparedness Process from the Transportation Perspective

Preparedness for evacuations occurs continuously and involves many partner departments and agencies at the local, regional, and State levels. The demographics of an area may change over time so it is important to review and adjust evacuation plans and support tools (such as call-down lists) at least annually. It is also important to review and adjust plans based on training and exercises as well as actual evacuations. Since each evacuation or training event may have unique circumstances, capturing lessons learned and best practices and applying them to improve evacuation plans is critical.

Evacuation preparedness involves a range of deliberate, critical tasks and activities necessary to build, sustain, and improve the operational capability to execute and support evacuation operations. It involves efforts at all levels of government, as well as between government and private sector and nongovernmental organizations, to identify threats, determine vulnerabilities, and identify required resources3. Essential resources should be identified during the planning phase. Projected needs should be coordinated in advance, including the necessary process to acquire these assets when needed. Activities during this phase include inventorying both private and public sector resources that may aid the evacuation process. Training and exercise activities are essential during this phase to ensure that EOT and EOC staff know their roles and responsibilities by rote when activated. The “Components of an Effective Evacuation Plan” section of this primer provides a list of questions that should be considered when developing an evacuation plan.

Developing the Evacuation Plan

The most important activity to ensure successful evacuations is development of an evacuation plan that complements a jurisdiction’s emergency response plans. While the end product might be a document that publishes the jurisdiction’s intended plan of action, the process and the maintenance of the plan are just as important. Key plan preparation activities include:

  • Convening the appropriate stakeholders to develop a plan
  • Identifying tools that may need to be acquired or developed to execute the plan
  • Building capacity and training/exercising the EOT
  • Acquiring or pre-identifying key equipment and supplies
  • Establishing agreements for supplemental support (e.g., mutual-aid agreements)
  • Coordinating plans with regional, corridor, and State stakeholders
  • Establishing a process to continually review and update plan contents and changes with stakeholders, and adjust preparedness activities as appropriate
  • Developing the evacuation plan.

Each evacuation plan should be locally relevant meeting the specific needs of a community. Yet it should be flexible enough to fit within the network of plans of neighboring jurisdictions, and States, and at the National level. This may include coordinating highway corridor-specific plans that transcend political jurisdictions and come under a multi-organizational group. Such groups include the I-95 Corridor Coalition along the east coast and the Metropolitan Council of Governments in the National Capital Region, both of which played a vital role in the evacuations on September 11, 2001.

The use of the highway system should be one of the constant factors in any evacuation plan and may be key to any successful evacuation operation. Most evacuations occur within a jurisdiction and do not require external support. However, as illustrated in Figure 2, while the decision to evacuate usually originates at the local level, it often has a ripple effect that extends many miles beyond a town’s borders. A decision to evacuate one jurisdiction will place additional burdens on the resources of adjacent jurisdictions. Emergency preparedness planning in these areas must be as robust and synchronized as those in the area evacuated. By its very nature, the highway system is a shared resource of multiple cities, States, and regions of the country.

Figure 2. Areas Affected by Evacuation Plans

Figure 2. Areas Affected by Evacuation Plans D

3. Adapted from the National Response Plan definition. P. 71.


Figure shows Local inside of Regional inside of State inside of National.