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)

Establishing Agreements for Supplemental Support

Supplemental support can take many forms, but the most well-known, local-to-local agreement is the mutual-aid agreement. Every jurisdiction should engage in a mutual-aid agreement with each jurisdiction from which they expect to receive or provide support during an incident. Jurisdictions might sign mutual-aid agreements with surrounding jurisdictions, as well as relevant private sector and non-governmental organizations. Additionally, States should look into creating interstate compacts that encompass all local jurisdictions4.

Mutual-aid agreements should contain the following provisions:

  • Definition of key terms used in the agreement
  • Roles and responsibilities of individuals and contact information
  • Procedures for requesting and providing assistance
  • Procedures, authorities, and rules for payment, reimbursement, and allocation of costs
  • Notification procedures
  • Protocols for interoperable communications
  • Relationships with other agreements among jurisdictions
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Treatment of liability and immunity
  • Recognition of qualifications and certifications
  • Sharing agreements, as required.

Although traditional mutual-aid agreements have not covered transportation support, jurisdictions can look to their neighbors to provide facilities such as alternate TMCs, ITS equipment, highway technical assistance, support for motorist assistance or TIM programs, and transit vehicles including those for people with special needs.

The State may supplement intra-state mutual-aid from a nationwide system whereby States are provided needed support on a State-to-State basis through EMAC. All states participate in this compact, which evolved from the Southern Governor’s Compact established as a corrective action following the Hurricane Andrew response operations in 1992. Advance coordination of potential evacuation support needs may be accomplished through EMAC via the State Emergency Management organization.

Training and Exercising

Effective response teams, particularly those that include members that do not work together on a day-to-day basis, must build an effective training and exercise program. Most individuals on an EOT should be familiar with the ICS, including its use as an organizational tool and its standardized terminology. However, others on the EOT—including transportation professionals, volunteer organizations, and private sector team members—may not be accustomed to the ICS tool. Since many on the EOT come from a variety of different organizations, they need a common framework and opportunities to train and/or exercise together. As a part of the orientation of all EOT members, a lesson on ICS should be given as part of the preparedness phase, and should be integrated into evacuation planning. There are a variety of resources that EOT members may access to develop this knowledge as noted in the text box. Evacuation planners that conduct training and exercises as an established and regular part of the process, find that these events enable members of the EOT to learn to work together in a non-emergency environment, developing the knowledge and trust they need in one another to effectively operate as a team during an emergency.

Evacuation Operations from the Transportation Perspective

This primer presents actions to take and transportation-specific considerations related to Evacuation Planning and Preparedness as well as each Evacuation Operational Phase. Due to the many activities occurring and the number of players involved in a well-orchestrated response, the activities associated with some phases may overlap depending on the situation of a particular evacuation.

Figure 3. Phases of Evacuation Operations

Phases of Evacuation OperationsD

Evacuation Operations Phases, shown in Figure 3, may be defined as follows:

Readiness: This phase of the evacuation operation occurs when information becomes available that an event may occur where evacuation—and the scope of the evacuation—must be considered. This could come days or hours before an event. Initial information alerts may include the issuance of a Hurricane Watch by the National Hurricane Center, or information about a wildfire that starts or moves closer to a population center.

Activation: This phase of the evacuation operation involves activating those who should execute the plan and perform essential coordination with responders and impacted jurisdictions. Officials should declare a voluntary, recommended, or mandatory evacuation and specify the geographic areas to be evacuated. Officials should also determine whether the evacuation will be performed in phases. At this point, the public should receive initial information that an evacuation may be ordered.

Operations: This phase of the evacuation operation consists of the implementation of all actions required to safely remove individuals from harm’s way, provide shelter and comfort, and return these same people to their point of origin. During this phase, government officials should issue evacuation orders and direct the EOT to execute the evacuation plan and provide support to those being evacuated. Generally, this phase encompasses two distinct types of operations with different objectives and at different times:

  • Tier I Evacuation Operation—To safely evacuate people from a potentially unsafe environment. The first tier involves ensuring the orderly movement of evacuees to designated reception sites beyond harm’s way, and usually occurs within 6 to 72 hours.
  • Tier II Evacuation Operation—To support the return of evacuees to their point of origination once it is determined to be safe to re-enter the community. The second tier operations may be conducted over days or even months in the case of a mass evacuation for a catastrophic event. Public officials—including utilities, health and medical, and public safety officials—should analyze information and determine when communities may be permitted to return to their points of origin.

All stakeholders follow the evacuation plan at this point. Evacuation personnel work together on the ground with public safety, emergency management, and other responders, and coordinate with their liaison at the local EOC for information, support in handling unanticipated problems, and contingency plan implementation.

Return-to-Readiness: At the conclusion of the operation, evacuation personnel undertake actions to return personnel and systems that executed the evacuation to a point of readiness to conduct future evacuations. One key activity involves gathering planning partners and stakeholders to prepare an After-Action Report (AAR) to identify problems and successes that occurred during evacuation operations. Planners incorporate these lessons learned and best practices into the evacuation plan and share them with colleagues. Plans, agreements, and training are adjusted as appropriate based on these reviews.

The following information discusses the general actions at each operational phase, as well as transportation-specific activities, considerations, and capabilities that may be used to contribute to successful evacuation operations.

4. NIMS. March 1, 2004. Pages 39-40.


Figure shows phases of the Operations Cycle:

  • Readiness
  • activation
  • Operations
  • Return-to-readiness

The phases move in a circular motion.