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)


Tier I Operations: Evacuating People from Harm’s Way

This phase involves a concentrated effort in a very short timeframe and may require a coordinated team effort with many human and material resources applied to the operation. The EOT should engage public safety officials in going door-to-door to ensure residents know of an evacuation order and are complying, serving in a TIM capacity and aiding along highways, providing information to residents under the evacuation order, coordinating with stakeholders, and relieving congestion.

Once an evacuation order is issued, it must be communicated to those who need to evacuate. In addition, if the evacuation may impact neighboring jurisdictions, EOC personnel must maintain close coordination with a variety of groups that may be impacted by the flow of people from an area. Finally, the personnel, equipment, and supplies to execute the evacuation must be in place.

Accurate information pertaining to evacuation orders should be disseminated in a clear fashion and timely manner to avoid “shadow” or unnecessary evacuations. Shadow evacuations occur when people near threatened areas evacuate their homes and businesses even though they are not necessarily in danger. People who hear mandatory evacuation orders are the most likely to evacuate while recommended evacuation orders are met with less urgency.

Using the highway system as a primary means of evacuation requires the condition of the roadways be known before, during, and after the evacuation. Evacuation routes should be given priority over other road repair projects. If an evacuation will be ordered, transportation agencies should take steps to maximize the roadway system’s capacity before the evacuation begins such as suspending toll collection, suspending highway construction and opening as many lanes under construction that can be done safely, securing roadway construction sites, clearing roadways of debris, ensuring drainage systems are open and flowing freely, ensuring rest areas are operating and are fully stocked, and other such pre-evacuation activities. Many State DOTs use private contractors for highway maintenance and construction activities. Those contracts should contain requirements for the contractor to respond to DOT requests to assist with pre-evacuation activities. These activities may be eligible for FHWA or FEMA reimbursement, so adequate contract provisions and accurate recordkeeping is critical. During the evacuation, it is important to monitor the conditions of the roadway (e.g., for debris or flooding) so that evacuees can be prepared and re-routed if necessary. In addition, incidents such as vehicle crashes may occur and will need to be responded to and cleared quickly to avoid hindering the evacuation.

Coordinating Information

In this phase, information collection, analysis, coordination, and dissemination is critical. Real time data is a must. Information should be shared with a variety of target audiences, including:

  • The public
  • The media, National and State Congressional representatives, local political authorities, and other groups
  • Local jurisdictions
  • Reception sites and other field locations
  • Stakeholders, including transportation entities.

Communicating with the Public

Communication to the public about the evacuation must be planned to ensure provision of complete and accurate information. Most government agencies have a Public Information Officer (PIO) to assist with such planning and communications. The public needs information such as the reason for the evacuation, the time the evacuation should begin, the type of evacuation (e.g., voluntary, recommended, or mandatory), the expected duration of the evacuation, the highway evacuation routes to be used, how to receive assistance with transportation if they cannot self-evacuate, and the location of shelter. The information must be communicated through as many methods as are available and repeated often. Preparation and delivery of the message must be followed through to ensure the public receives and understands the intended message. This is especially important when informing people with limited English proficiency. Grass roots organizations can help reach vast audiences. Coordination with smaller media outlets and amateur radios networks must also be considered. Examples of information tools are discussed in the “Tools for Effective Highway Evacuation Operations” section of this primer.

Coordinating Information with the Media, National and State Representatives, Local Political Authorities, and Other Groups

Regular media briefings must be held to inform the media about evacuation routes, traffic and road conditions, shelter locations, and other pertinent information to communicate to the public in a timely manner. Additionally, National, State, and local authorities as well as agency personnel (such as transit and health agencies) should be briefed at regular intervals to ensure that all parties with management or oversight responsibilities are provided with accurate, timely, and comprehensive information to enable informed decisions to be made. A jurisdiction may establish Joint Information Centers (JICs) to ensure that everyone receives the same true and accurate information. The ability to quickly dispel rumors and correct inaccurate information is paramount during an evacuation. It should be regularly reinforced, both internally and externally, that persons involved in any way with the evacuation must direct all but the most basic inquiries to the JIC.

Coordinating with Local Jurisdictions

Local jurisdictions that may be impacted by evacuees transiting through or sheltering in the area must be kept informed of decisions, changes in operations, and ambient changes. They may be invited to send a representative to the local EOC for coordination purposes or may be included on dissemination lists for situation reports and updates. Any decision that impacts the jurisdiction—such as the need to adjust traffic signal timing on an evacuation route—must be communicated and coordinated by an official at an appropriate level immediately.

Coordinating Among the Emergency Response Team

Personnel working on the evacuation must maintain effective communications at all times to coordinate movements, share real time information, and track deployments. The EOT should include staff both at the EOC and in the field, who must communicate to keep key players informed and up-to-date on the status of the evacuation, to ensure quick resolution of issues that arise. Field personnel will likely be located at an Incident Command Post that has a mobile communications vehicle or may simply have radios in their vehicles or hand-held radios. It is critical to have redundant communications because the event may damage normal communications equipment options. Frequent communication is necessary to maintain the command and control structure to ensure the evacuation is managed effectively.

Transportation emergency personnel must be prepared to manage incomplete staffing situations. Operations leaders must have built-in redundancies to ensure that key personnel positions are filled with capable staff at all times. Operations leaders must also anticipate that during an emergency situation, personnel (including transit operators) will need to take breaks, sleep, and eat to ensure that they are functioning at full capacity—so built-in rotation schedules are needed. Systems must also be in place to ensure that personnel rotating in and out during an incident are briefed and debriefed so all personnel are operating and responding as a cohesive group.

Communicating with Reception Sites, Shelters and Other Field Locations

A sheltering plan is an important part of the evacuation plan. The transportation staff supporting the evacuation must work through the EOC to obtain up-to-date information on shelter locations, remaining capacity, etc. to ensure proper direction of evacuees to those locations.

In some communities, an intermediate reception site for evacuees is established. These sites may be used as a central location to gather large numbers of evacuees prior to evacuation to specific shelters. The sites may also be used as gathering locations to transfer evacuees from local transit and school buses to over-the-road coaches for long-distance transport to their final shelter location.

According to the High-Risk Area Hurricane Survey conducted by Harvard in July 2006, 35% of respondents said they were very worried about the conditions and their safety in an evacuation shelter—so monitoring security and communicating security information to evacuees is important.

Emergency managers must also stay in contact with shelter providers to ensure awareness of the shelters’ capacity, and needs for security, supplies, staffing, etc. The EOC must know the status of the shelters to relay that information to the public and decide whether to open additional shelters if the shelter is near full capacity. If additional shelters are opened or some have reached capacity, the transportation staff supporting the evacuation may need to update VMS, 511 messages, and field staff who are providing information to evacuees.

Once an evacuation is underway, there is a constant need for monitoring and information sharing to adjust the evacuation to meet changing conditions. For example, the decision to evacuate may be driven by weather conditions, so monitoring updates from NOAA, the National Hurricane Center, and other agencies is necessary. Likewise, deteriorating weather conditions during an evacuation may impact the speed of the evacuation and potentially endanger evacuees and agency staff who are conducting the evacuation. Personnel in the field can provide valuable information about the conditions during the evacuation including weather and congestion. Some TMCs have also integrated weather information monitoring into their TMC operations such as in Salt Lake City, UT. where they have a partnership with a weather service provider or in Houston, TX., where the TranStar system is tied into a flood gauge map and alarm system. More information on integrating weather into TMCs may be found in the FHWA report Integration of Emergency and Weather Elements into Transportation Management Centers. A link to the report is included in the “Other Information Resources” section of this primer.

Coordinating with Transportation Officials from Other Transportation Modes

Many people cannot self-evacuate for various reasons. Friends, family, or volunteers may evacuate some of these people, but most need help. When a large number of such evacuees must be evacuated in a very compressed timeframe, personal vehicles will be insufficient. In those cases, government agencies must organize and execute an evacuation using other modes with the highway system serving as the backbone for the evacuation.

The most common mode is large-capacity conveyances, such as school buses, transit buses, and paratransit vehicles for special needs evacuees. While these vehicles are sufficient for a short-distance evacuation, they may be insufficient to transport evacuees for longer distances—so over-the-road coaches, commuter trains, or other passenger trains such as AMTRAK may be required. If the time to evacuate is short and the number of special needs evacuees is large, evacuation by air may be required. This may be a combination of commercial, military, and private aircraft, as well as an orchestrated effort using buses and motor coaches to transport evacuees from designated points to and from the airfield. In addition, medical patients sometimes must be moved by helicopter due to the nature of their medical needs. Many public and private organizations are capable of providing helicopter services. Depending on location, evacuation by water may be an option such as the ferry services and tour boats that were used to evacuate lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. Evacuees who are to be moved by bus, train, air, or waterway will likely have to be transported to and from those modes over the highway network.

Such a large-scale, multimodal evacuation may require significant coordination among the many agencies that are supplying personnel and equipment to support it. It is unlikely that a local government has such vast resources at its disposal. Thus, the local government may require the use of a mutual-aid agreement with other agencies and even the assistance of the Federal government. There should be pre-designated locations for staging the equipment and the operators and for gathering and transporting the evacuees. It is also important to track the destination of these evacuees to notify friends and family of their location and to develop a plan to return the evacuees to their original locations once the area has been deemed safe for re-entry. The state of Texas developed a plan to give a tracking bracelet to every person who used state provided transportation for evacuation. Local, State, and Federal DOTs should be able to aid in coordinating multi-modal movements and in acquiring transportation assets to support an evacuation operation. It is important to monitor the number of evacuees moved by means other than personal vehicles to ensure that additional equipment and operators (such as buses and drivers or helicopters and pilots) are requested and supplied quickly if needed. This information should also aid in developing the re-entry plan, as the same transportation resources will likely be required for that operation.

During the evacuation, it will be important to know where transportation assets are located. Many transit agencies have installed Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to automatically locate their transit vehicles including buses and trains. As an example, Corpus Christi, TX. and surrounding Nueces County have teamed together, along with several privately operated refinery fire brigades, to equip the majority of their vehicles with GPS systems for Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL). In this application, all police, fire, emergency medical, sheriff, local fixed-route transit, and paratransit vehicles (Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority) are equipped. Map displays in the EOC allow command and control of all AVL-equipped vehicles. The San Antonio bus fleet (VIA), located about 140 miles away, is also similarly equipped, and with radio reprogramming is capable of augmenting the evacuation fleet of vehicles already in operation in the Corpus Christi area.

Identifying and Coping with Communications Interoperability Issues

During an evacuation, those operating in the field may find that their communications equipment cannot communicate with the EOC, first responders, or other important personnel, including transportation, involved during the evacuation. When developing evacuation plans, communications equipment and support systems for all agencies involved in the evacuation should be thoroughly developed and tested to identify and address these issues before an evacuation.

Protecting Human and Physical Resources

Protection of EOT members and evacuees is critical to the success of any operation. To protect responders and evacuees, jurisdictions must have sufficient resources available to support the evacuation. It is important to know when to end the evacuation so that the field personnel can move themselves and their equipment to a safe location. If field personnel are not able to reach their primary destination, they need to know where the closest shelter location is to move out of harm’s way. It is important to know where the field personnel are located at all times, those who have returned to their operations base and those still out on the roadways. Should normal voice communications be affected, many portable radios, cell phones, and vehicles are equipped with GPS or AVL.

Traffic Control and Traffic Incident Management

Controlling the traffic and responding to traffic incidents should be a joint effort among transportation, law enforcement, and emergency medical personnel. Additional support may be needed from highway service patrols and the towing industry to respond to and clear highway incidents as quickly and safely as possible. Highway contractors should secure highway construction work zones, and toll agencies may need to suspend toll collection operations.

The evacuation may occur on a variety of roadways from neighborhood streets to collector streets to major arterials and interstates. These roadways are under the control of various jurisdictions, so coordination is a must. Each jurisdiction must know the evacuation plan, their roles and responsibilities in conducting the evacuation, and the personnel and equipment resources necessary to support the evacuation. There are many traffic control-related activities that must occur before, during, and after an evacuation. A description of traffic control tools is included in the “Tools for Effective Highway Evacuation Operations” section of this primer.

FHWA has several tools and programs that are used to manage day-to-day traffic operations but can also be used in evacuation planning and execution. One of these programs is the Arterial Management Program, which covers three major focus areas: arterial management, traffic signal timing, and access management. The Arterial Management Program promotes the efficient and effective movement of people and goods and improves the safety of the traveling public and the environment. The proper application of arterial management tools can assist a jurisdiction in evacuation planning and execution. During an evacuation event, the major highways may be operating at or over design capacity. Therefore, it is important to make use of major arterials to assist in the flow of traffic.

Traffic Signal Timing: It is estimated that over 75 percent of the country’s 330,000 traffic control signals could be improved by updating the equipment or by simply adjusting the timing. Traffic signal improvements include updating equipment, updating timing plans, and interconnecting signals. Poorly timed signals account for five percent of the total congestion on U.S. roads. Advanced traffic signal control involves coordinating groups of signals, operating signal control systems that respond and adapt to traffic needs, or installing a priority control system. A major arterial that connects to a major interstate evacuation route could be equipped with advanced traffic signal control, could be operated from a central location, and could provide a constant movement of vehicles onto the major roadway. Traffic monitoring on arterials can include incident detection with appropriate follow-up action to remove incidents, intersection surveillance and monitoring using loop detectors and video, and area-wide traffic surveillance. In an evacuation, pre-set traffic signal timing patterns can be implemented to assist in moving the highway traffic more effectively. To provide information on traffic signal timing for evacuations for State and local agencies, FHWA published Traffic Signal Timing for Urban Evacuation which will be available online in late 2006.

Access Management: Access management is a set of techniques that State and local governments can use to control access to highways, major arterials, and other roadways. The benefits of access management include improved movement of traffic, reduced crashes, and fewer vehicle conflicts. Access spacing increases the distance between traffic signals, thereby improving the flow of traffic on major arterials and reducing congestion. Dedicated left- and right-turn lanes, indirect left-turns and U-turns, and roundabouts keep through-traffic flowing. Roundabouts represent a potential solution for intersections with many conflict points. Two-way, left-turn lanes and non-traversable, raised medians are examples of some of the most effective means to regulate access and reduce accidents. These practices can increase the roadways’ capacity, which is important in an evacuation.

When congested traffic conditions occur on one roadway, travelers typically respond by shifting to another route, selecting a different type of roadway (freeway versus arterial), delaying their time of departure, or remaining on their current route thereby encountering significant delays. FHWA has developed Corridor Management Programs that encourage neighboring jurisdictions to work collaboratively to alleviate congestion issues. Examples of near-term opportunities agencies may pursue include:

  • Establishing formal agreements and documenting operational policies
  • Developing protocols, procedures, operational strategies, and control plans
  • Deploying traffic control systems, establishing and maintaining interfaces between systems, and implementing ITS technologies to control traffic and share information
  • Coordinating traffic control at all traffic signals and between freeway interchanges with urban corridors
  • Deploying traffic management centers
  • Using managed-lane operational and access control strategies within corridors.

These basic concepts for everyday traffic congestion mitigation also prove invaluable during a disaster that affects adjoining jurisdictions, especially one requiring an evacuation.

The Freeway Management Program includes initiatives that increase agencies’ awareness of benefits, encourage regional collaboration and sharing of resources, develop capabilities, utilize operational strategies, and deploy TMCs and ITS to continuously improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how agencies proactively manage and control freeway facilities. Freeway operations and traffic management, and managed-lanes initiatives coordinated through interconnected TMCs, can provide the regional cooperative approach needed to manage far-reaching disasters including evacuations.

Contraflow or Lane Reversal as an Evacuation Operations Tool: When moving a large number of residents from an area becomes a necessity, public officials consider whether to execute contraflow, or lane reversal, plans. Contraflow operations usually occur during mass evacuation scenarios and on major, controlled-access highways to reduce the duration of the evacuation by opening up all lanes in one direction. Several States have used this practice with much success. These contraflow operations proved to significantly reduce evacuation times of the general population. However, if an evacuation can be safely accomplished without implementing contraflow, that choice may be preferable to reduce the costs and personnel and equipment resources needed to support the evacuation. Successful contraflow operations require:

  • Planning that includes notification protocols and the inclusion of all surrounding jurisdictions that may be affected by the operation
  • Basic human needs for both evacuees and responders, including availability of fuel, food, water, changes of clothing, and lavatory facilities, depending on the length of time for the contraflow operation
  • Advance information, including when the contraflow operations should start and end, by time and location. VMS and other equipment must clearly direct drivers to the correct lanes during contraflow, especially when crossing over the median.
  • Information regarding restrictions on the types of vehicles that will and will not be allowed in the contraflow lanes, whether or not toll collection will be suspended, if applicable, etc. For example, wide-load vehicles should not be allowed on a highway during a contraflow operation, as they may slow down the operation.

During contraflow operations, it is important to monitor the operations to ensure that traffic is flowing as safely and efficiently as possible. Some States use law enforcement helicopters to monitor the contraflow operations to quickly identify any incidents that need response. They are supported by law enforcement vehicles on the routes to respond to any incidents that occur such as traffic accidents, medical emergencies, and stalled vehicles. Many States operate incident response teams with roving trucks that carry fuel and can provide minor vehicle repairs such as changing flat tires. Such services can help contraflow operations run more smoothly. States and local agencies often monitor their permanent traffic counter locations from their TMCs to determine the speed at which the contraflow traffic is moving, and can use that information to determine how long they need to continue to operate in contraflow and to share that information with other communities that may be receiving the contraflow traffic.

Ideally, if contraflow is incorporated as a component of an evacuation plan, it should be tested and exercised, including full set up and break down of equipment and materials. This helps officials get baseline data on how long it may take to establish contraflow during a real time event. Some locations need two hours to set up, while others need six hours. Time variations may be based upon already pre-positioned barricades and equipment along contraflow routes or on how easy it is to gather the necessary personnel and equipment to support the operation.

Sample time-consuming tasks include ensuring that flip down signage is properly flipped down, reflective buttons are removed or placed depending on purpose, cones are placed across median crossover lanes, and gates are placed at closed ramps. All of these details must be planned ahead of time, and also exercised to ensure that those responsible during contraflow know their roles and responsibilities, ensuring a smooth operation. One example of defining responsibilities is an agreement between the States of Mississippi and Louisiana that addresses two specific evacuation routes that may be put into contraflow operations from Louisiana into Mississippi, as happened during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The agreements provide details on which agencies are responsible for what actions and on what timeline.

During an incident of significance where evacuation is likely, emergency vehicles may transport people to and from locations during all phases of an event. Law enforcement and other public safety personnel and their vehicles must be able to move around the community to attend to the situation and ensure that those under evacuation orders take immediate action. Inbound vehicles may also transport supplies and equipment to reduce the response time after the event. All of these access issues must be incorporated into any evacuation plan including considerations to use contraflow as an evacuation tool.

In February 2006, the Florida DOT along with the U.S. DOT, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and the I-95 Corridor Coalition sponsored a multi-state contraflow workshop to share experiences and best practices. The “Other Information Resources” section of this primer provides a link to the materials from that workshop.

ITS Equipment to Aid Evacuation

ITS may be used during an evacuation to collect data and as a tool to communicate and coordinate with evacuees, evacuation operations personnel, partners, and other stakeholders. ITS encompasses a broad range of wireless and wire-line communications-based information and electronics technologies. These systems are generally managed through a TMC that may be separate from or part of an EOC. If separate, there are often communications between the TMC and the EOC that allow those in the EOC to see the same camera video feed as seen in the TMC such as in Houston and Austin, TX., as well as the Atlanta and Baltimore EOCs and TMCs. ITS is made up of both intelligent infrastructure systems and intelligent vehicle systems. One lesson learned from previous disasters is that a redundant power source is needed for many ITS systems so they can still function if the primary power source is impacted by the disaster.

FHWA is developing a Real Time System Management Information Program to monitor, in real time, the traffic and travel conditions on the major highways in the U.S. As States and local governments develop or update their ITS, they will explicitly address real time highway and transit information needs and the systems to meet those needs.

During an evacuation, emergency personnel must be able to coordinate and communicate with evacuees, whether in transit or upon arrival at reception sites and shelters. While many people may have received their information to evacuate by television or a REVERSE 911® system, those options are no longer available once the evacuees are in their personal vehicles. So, it is important to use radio, HAR, VMS, 511, and other such communications devices to reach evacuees while en route.

The following examples of ITS resources may have application for evacuations.

VMS—These signs are also referred to as Changeable Message Signs (CMS) or Dynamic Message Signs (DMS). The signs can be pre-programmed or programmed in real time to provide information to highway travelers. The signs can be permanently mounted along major roadways as in many urban areas or on trailers so they can be moved to any location as necessary. The signs provide great flexibility in the information they can provide such as travel times, locations of traffic incidents, or the location of shelters for evacuees.

Traveler Information-Dial 511—Many States have robust 511 or other telephone traveler information systems. As of late 2006, these systems reach about 35 percent of the U.S. population. A number of other States are deploying 511 and these systems should bring the coverage up to about 54 percent of the U.S. population in the next few years. These systems may be used to aid those evacuating who have access to landline or cellular telephones prior to or during their evacuation. Most of the 511 systems provide route-specific traffic conditions and weather information, in addition to area-wide alert information. Also, most of them have the capability to provide an alert message (sometimes referred to as a “floodgate” message since it is “flooded” out to all callers at the beginning of the call) that all callers must listen to and could contain evacuation information. Southeast Florida, Central Florida, and the Tampa, Florida regions under the Florida DOT have implemented robust 511 systems where motorists can obtain information about congestion, travel times, and road closures. A separate hotline provides information on hurricane shelters. These systems experienced no failures or down time during the four hurricanes that impacted Florida in 2004.

Advanced Traveler Information Systems (ATIS)—ATIS are designed to enhance personal mobility, safety, and productivity of transportation through a system that monitors traffic and road conditions and transfers the information to a TMC and back out to users. ATIS can play a role in reducing traffic congestion during evacuations by providing en route traveler information about traffic conditions, route guidance, and other pertinent information. FHWA has recently published the report Communicating with the Public Using ATIS During Disasters—Concept of Operations which may be useful to both transportation and emergency planners. A link to this report is included in the “Other Information Resources” section of this primer.

Highway Advisory Radio (HAR)—HAR can be used to broadcast information to motorists in a localized area and provide more information than can often be communicated with a VMS. Its broadcast range usually falls within one to six miles of the radio transmitter, and nearly all HAR systems use the AM radio band. Signs are generally posted in the broadcast area to inform motorists of which radio station to tune into to receive information. Transportation and emergency managers should keep a map of the location of signs and broadcast towers so that they can target messages during an evacuation, and be able to quickly assess any damage to these assets after the event. Following the 2005 hurricane season, the Florida DOT identified 13 new critical locations in the State at which to install HAR to assist with evacuations. Additional mobile HARs will be deployed in Florida as needed to get the best signal coverage.

In-Vehicle Systems—There are a number of in-vehicle information systems that can be purchased as part of a new vehicle or added as an after-market device. These systems can provide a wide array of information to a motorist via a video display inside the vehicle. Subscribers to these services can receive routine traveler information as well as emergency information; some services are even linked to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) All-Hazards Radio System. In general, these systems provide information they receive from official government channels in emergency situations. Emergency managers and transportation officials may also consider partnering with satellite radio providers to broadcast information to truckers carrying essential recovery materials regarding any temporary changes to commercial vehicle restrictions. One example includes a new service being commercially provided by NAVTEQ™, that uses the Radio Data System (RDS) protocol designed into all car radios installed since 1995, which provides traffic alert systems to subscribers in multiple metropolitan areas around the U.S. NAVTEQ™ maintains a control center staffed 24/7 to provide the alert notifications, and currently uses commercial as well as government ITS system data that is publicly available. It may be possible to augment their system for evacuation text and audio messaging, or mirror this system with a publicly sponsored system.

Cameras—Cameras are another type of traffic surveillance system capable of monitoring speed and flows that can be used for evacuation management. One commonly used system is closed circuit television (CCTV). CCTV cameras have an advantage over loop detection in that they can provide direct visual confirmation of traffic and weather conditions at remote locations. They can also be used for detecting incidents and verifying their removal. Another application is to use CCTV as a secure means of linking the centers in operation during an evacuation, including EOCs, TMCs, public safety, fire, and shelters.

One of the limitations of CCTV is that it typically requires direct power and communication connections. This is often difficult in remote locations along evacuation routes. Newer CCTV and ITS applications such as the Des Moines, Iowa, ITS system covering I-80, I-35, and I-235 in the metropolitan area include sensors with solar power and battery backup and wireless communications between the sensors and the TMC using WiFi and WiMax technologies.

Providing Medical Services During the Evacuation

When managing an evacuation the care and treatment of people injured during the event must be considered. Additional medical and support staff from adjoining areas must be properly licensed to permit their usage, if required, in the affected area. Transport vehicles and emergency supplies must be acquired. Administrative support must also be provided to account for and track the injured.

The highway system will likely be the primary means of transporting those with medical needs. The evacuation plan must consider accommodation of the emergency vehicles for ingress and egress, especially if contraflow operations are in progress.

Managing Evacuation of Special Needs Populations

Hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and other institutions generally are responsible for developing their own evacuation plans and deciding when to evacuate their residents. They face unique issues such as whether the risks of not evacuating outweigh the risks of moving seriously ill individuals. Comparable facilities must be identified in advance of the evacuation to ensure these evacuees receive necessary services. It is important to ensure that responsible individuals have access to the latest information about an incident and that institutions’ evacuation plans work in the event of a mass evacuation of the entire population of an area.

Evacuating those with special needs who are not in institutions also presents problems such as locating where these individuals live, despite attempts by local agencies to maintain lists of persons with various special needs. Some cities, like New Orleans, are establishing a 311 information hotline to register residents with special needs for evacuations. Other areas have similar registration programs, but those programs depend upon the willingness of persons to register. Privacy interests and some individuals’ reluctance to identify themselves as having special needs are considerations that must be addressed in establishing a comprehensive registry.

Persons who use wheelchairs, those who rely on special medical equipment, those with hearing or visual impairments, the elderly, limited English proficiency, and other groups have unique communication, transportation, and sheltering needs that must be planned for in advance. This includes ensuring that all forms of temporary housing (e.g., shelters, trailers) meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. Providing these specialized services in the course of a mass evacuation may present particular challenges.

Another group that may have special needs is children. They can become separated from family or caregivers which may cause stress for the children. Children should be included in the emergency plans that families prepare so they know what to do if they become separated from their family during an evacuation. Children may also have special shelter needs as their family may have difficulty coping with the demands of the emergency situation. So child care may be necessary to allow the family to deal with the emergency situation itself as well as to provide stability and comfort to the children.

Emergency responders must consider the unique requirements of managing special needs populations while conducting an evacuation. Thus it is important to consider the following:

  • Multiple Methods of Communication: Emergency response personnel should be equipped to communicate evacuation messages to special needs populations in as many formats and languages as the situation warrants (e.g., having non-English language materials available, brochures printed in Braille, or text messages sent to those with hearing impairments).
  • Special Needs Transportation Equipment: Emergency coordinators should consider the transportation needs of those with special needs, such as wheelchair accessible vehicles to evacuate those with physical disabilities and equipment such as oxygen tanks and insulin for those who have other medical needs. Still other special needs evacuees may need assistance from a service animal or a caregiver, and space must be made available to accommodate these companion travelers. These evacuees may also have specific needs for water, food, medical services, etc. while being transported, and those must be planned for in advance.
  • Special Needs Shelter Considerations: As noted above, those with special needs may require specialized transportation equipment and also may need specialized shelters. All shelters must comply with ADA for accessibility and may need specialized bedding as the standard shelter cots may not be feasible for use. There may be a need for medical care beyond the normal first aid that would be supplied. The ability to communicate with those in shelters in more than one language, including sign language, may be necessary as well.

The National Consortium on the Coordination of Human Service Transportation published a Transportation and Emergency Preparedness Checklist to be used in the planning phase as a guide to those who must transport persons requiring mobility assistance in an emergency. Information on how to access this Checklist is contained in the “Other Information Resources” section of this primer.