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)

Operations: Activation Phase

In the Activation Phase, decisions should translate into action. Personnel should be mobilized and the field infrastructure should be established, with evacuation personnel making contact with and linking into the incident command infrastructure. Assets, including human resources, should report to staging areas to await the order to begin the evacuation operation. Equipment should be taken to pre-determined locations, including VMS, food and water for the evacuees, gasoline tankers, mechanic crews, and others that may be staged along the pre-designated evacuation route. Operations centers should become fully functional. All of this should be accomplished to prepare for the imminent evacuation operation.
Once the decision to evacuate has been made, emphasis should switch to activities conducted and monitored at Incident Command Posts. This stage involves:

  • Activating EOTs and support organizations
  • Establishing field capabilities (including establishing a unified command structure at the incident command post or TMC, pre-staging equipment and personnel)
  • Coordinating plans and needs with regional, corridor, and State partners
  • Activating reception plans, sites, and support capabilities with volunteer or public organizations
  • Activating evacuee return resources if the duration of the evacuation is expected to be short.

Figure 4 depicts the complexity of the communications necessary during an evacuation. The Incident Commander retains the overall responsibility for the evacuation, but other EOT personnel in the EOC and in the field need to coordinate and communicate to ensure the safety and efficiency of the evacuation process.

Figure 4. Evacuation Communications and Coordination

Evacuation Communications and CoordinationD

Activating Evacuation Personnel

As a part of the planning process, jurisdictions should establish an activation team that can coordinate evacuation orders and operations. Local emergency managers should develop and maintain a 24-hour contact list for these personnel at the EOCs. As local emergency managers monitor an impending situation and provide information to the decision makers, they also must keep the evacuation team informed of the status of the impending event and decisions being made related to potential evacuation orders—before they are communicated with the public. When a decision is made to activate personnel in advance of an event, the necessary transportation personnel must be alerted and given time to communicate whether they can assume their station (e.g., if their family is in the path of the storm or will be among the evacuees). When evacuation team members, and their families, are the subjects of an evacuation order, it may be necessary to rely upon mutual-aid agreements to provide additional team support from unaffected areas.

There are a variety of ways to notify evacuation personnel, from the basic phone trees to more technology-based methods. The key is to build redundancy into the system so that multiple communications methods are used to ensure rapid results.

Activated personnel need information to respond appropriately. An agency’s SOPs should provide basic information. However, depending on the nature of the incident, personnel may need more detailed, specific information (e.g., to report to an alternate work location, to bring clothing if they are to be away from home for an extended period of time, and the supplies and equipment they need to bring, as well as other information to ensure they are properly prepared).

Some scenarios require deployment of technical specialists, personnel with specialized skills or specific certifications or degrees who are called upon in situations where required capabilities are beyond those of standard evacuation personnel. Specialists may serve anywhere within the ICS—the board rooms of the political executives; the local, State or regional EOC; the Incident Command Post; the TMCs—and typically perform tasks similar to those of their daily jobs.

Establishing Field Capabilities

After activation, the experts should report to various locations. Those who collect and analyze information or develop contingency, strategic, or operational plans should report to the local EOC. Those who develop incident action plans or execute the evacuation should report to a variety of field sites. While EOT members usually are not responsible for establishing the field operations infrastructure, they should be aware of what it is, who sets it up and manages it, and the role it plays in a consolidated response operation.

First responders use the ICS as a standardized, on-scene, emergency management tool. The system provides an organizational structure that integrates many different disciplines and activities (including the evacuation operation) depending upon the complexity and demands of single or multiple incidents, without being hindered by jurisdictional boundaries. ICS involves the combination of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications that should be applied to an incident. Within the ICS structure, local incident commanders may fold State and Federal resources into the response. Transportation personnel should operate within the ICS structure during an evacuation.

Some incidents, particularly those with very complex operations, call for a Unified Command, which is established in response to a multi-jurisdictional incident—when more than one agency has incident jurisdiction or when an incident crosses multiple jurisdictions. Unified Command (UC) “allows agencies with different legal, geographic, and functional authorities and responsibilities to work together effectively without affecting individual agency authority, responsibility or accountability.”5 Evacuation team members will likely encounter a Unified Command structure when response operations and the evacuation cross jurisdictional lines and are executed in anticipation of or response to a major or catastrophic event that impacts thousands. A Unified Command structure for an EOT may include a leader from the law enforcement, transportation, mass care, fire and rescue, and emergency medical services areas.

Once the field organization is established (either at an incident command post or at a local EOC), the EOT Leader should review tactical plans with the assembled team including:

  • Ensuring information reaches the target group
  • Enforcing the evacuation
  • Identifying evacuation route plans, including the routes that should be designated for ingress traffi
  • Pre-staging equipment and personnel along the evacuation routes
  • Identifying the location of shelters including shelters for those with special needs, pets, etc
  • Designating pick-up locations for the transportation-dependent
  • Coordinating procedures with surrounding jurisdictions.

After development of the tactical plan, the EOT should make resource allocation decisions. These may include:

  • Teams to notify residents and ensure their evacuation
  • Contracting teams to secure conveyances for transit-dependent or special needs populations; animal handling teams
  • Road crews with VMS and maintenance equipment
  • Vehicle maintenance teams with gasoline tankers and vehicle maintenance tools and parts staged along the major egress route
  • Emergency medical staff and first aid, Basic Life Support and Advanced Life Support equipment staged along the evacuation routes or attached to those working with special needs populations
  • Debris removal crews to rapidly clear blocked highways
  • Sanitation crews with mobile comfort stations (e.g., portable toilets, wash area)
  • Volunteer agency personnel with food, water, other life support items, and information on shelter availability to aid evacuees as well as those supporting the evacuation
    Personnel deployed to various staging areas receive information on the date, time, and place of departure; mode of transportation to the incident; estimated date and time of arrival; reporting location; anticipated assignment; anticipated duration of deployment; resource order number; incident number; and applicable cost and funding codes. Once at the incident, personnel must check in, starting the on-scene in-processing. Notification that the resource has arrived is looped back through the system.

Developing Event-Specific Evacuation Incident Action Plans and Coordinating Plans and Needs with Partners

Developing and Coordinating Evacuation and Other Incident Action Plans (IAPs)

It is critical to coordinate local evacuation IAPs with the designated incident commander in the field and the EOC. They, in turn should coordinate the evacuation IAPs with neighboring jurisdictions and the State since they may be impacted by any decision to evacuate an area. The State should share consolidated evacuation plans with neighboring States as evacuees may travel to other States to seek shelter, or mutual-aid may be requested from another State. The neighboring jurisdictions need to understand local plans and their expected role and resources in supporting them. Their assistance may also be necessary to execute the evacuation.

The evacuation IAP should factor in information on evacuee reception plans, shelters, and the location of other support capabilities, such as motorist assistance teams and comfort stations. These should be shared with the Incident Commander, the EOC and volunteer or other organizations supporting the evacuees. The EOT is not responsible for establishing and operating shelters, but must know where they are located and where evacuees are being accepted. The EOT should obtain updated information frequently and communicate this information to the evacuees throughout the evacuation process.

Evacuees must be able to access shelter locations that serve basic human needs such as food, water, sanitation, and lodging. The EOT should obtain information on those shelters established to address those with medical needs and/or pets as well as those with limited English proficiency. Most EOC operations have a person responsible for shelter data. The EOT can access shelter information through that source or a mass-care liaison at the Incident Command Post. Field personnel conducting the evacuation must have up-to-date shelter information to direct evacuees to the correct locations.

Organizations establishing shelters often establish a disaster welfare inquiry system. Many locations use a 211 or 311 telephone number for such shelter information to prevent overburdening the 911 system and ensure its availablity for true emergencies.

5. NIMS. March 1, 2004. Page 12.


figure shows the interaction between resources. All operations interact with EOT Liason at the Emergency Operations Center. The following operations are listed:

  • EOT Liason at the Emergency Operations Center
  • Unified Command
  • TMC
  • EOT along highways to help evacuation operations
  • EOT liason at the mass care facilities
  • EOT bus staging area
  • EOT public safety personnel evacuate people away from affected area