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Local and State agencies routinely handle evacuations from many incidents, including wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hazardous material accidents, and significant transportation accidents. To be able to successfully respond to no-notice incidents and the resulting evacuations, jurisdictions must develop comprehensive evacuation plans. The process through which plans are developed should involve representatives from all the agencies that will be involved in supporting evacuation efforts, including those responsible for transportation.

The first Primer in this series, Using Highways During Evacuation Operations for Events with Advance Notice, presents a comprehensive description of the process for developing an evacuation plan. This section provides a brief overview of some of the key issues that will influence the planning process, particularly with regard to the challenges of preparing for a no-notice evacuation, including:

Understanding these elements will better prepare transportation officials for participating in the development of an evacuation plan that is consistent with the National Response Framework (NRF) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS).


Transportation planners should have an understanding of the intended scope of the evacuation plan. This will establish the basic parameters for geographic area and population that the plan will serve. This definition of scope will help identify a number of other elements that will affect the final plan, including:


Traffic Management Centers (TMCs) – Also called Traffic Operations Centers (TOCs), these facilities are typically run by a jurisdiction's DOT and are used on a day-to-day basis to monitor and manage elements of the transportation network. Within a given region, different transportation agencies may operate separate TMCs (e.g., one TMC operated by the transit agency to oversee subway and bus operations, and a second TMC operated by the state DOT to monitor state highways). In some instan-ces, states have created TMCs which combine staff from emergency management and transportation agencies to enhance cooperation and incident response.

One of the underlying assumptions of an evacuation plan is that preplanning is one of the most important factors in minimizing the effects of no-notice incidents. Preplanning, which spans all aspects of preparedness, addresses the hurdles posed by a lack of a Readiness Phase; responders will be forced to rely on their existing capabilities, experience, and level of preparation when responding to a no-notice incident. As part of preplanning:


These facilities are usually operated by a jurisdiction's emergency management department. An EOC is the location from which a multi-agency emergency response is coordinated, and is staffed with representatives from all relevant response and support agencies. EOCs are often in "standby" mode, and are not fully activated and staffed unless there is a specific need for them. Additionally, a single agency may have an individual EOC from which it coordinates its own response activities; in such cases, coordination and communication among multiple EOCs is essential for an effective overall response.


An effective evacuation plan should adopt an all-hazards approach to preparing for an incident, which entails developing a response and recovery plan that is functional regardless of the incident that causes the evacuation; it is designed to achieve the core mission of life saving/protecting, rather than focusing on responding to the particular type of incident. This provides the flexibility required to respond to any type of incident, including terrorist attacks, technological accidents, and natural disasters, regardless of size or location.

This approach is particularly appropriate for no-notice evacuation planning. Transportation agencies and other stakeholders will need a plan that can be implemented quickly and with limited information. If the plan requires knowledge of the precipitating incident, implementation will likely be delayed by the lack of necessary information. Because evacuation plans focus primarily on moving people away from a particular location or area, they can be implemented regardless of the reason for evacuation. It should be noted, however, that some types of situations will mandate particular evacuation response activities, as is the case with pre-transport victim decontamination in the event of a toxic release.


Photo. A fire fighter working to prevent the spread of an active wildfire.
Source: FEMA/Liz Roll.
Photo. The impact of the second aircraft in the World Trade Center disaster.
Photo. Volcanic eruption of Mount Saint Helens.

A successful no-notice evacuation relies on an effective command structure that can be assembled quickly and efficiently. The command structure generates an effective overall response effort by establishing a framework within which the resources and activities of numerous response agencies are coordinated. While the specific components of the command structure will vary among jurisdictions due to the involvement of different agencies, there are several overarching standards that will apply.

National Incident Management System – NIMS was created in 2003 by a Presidential Directive. It establishes a comprehensive, national approach to incident management. Two key concepts of NIMS are: (1) that it provides a flexible framework for managing incidents; and (2) that it standardizes structures and requirements for responding to incidents. NIMS is applicable at all levels of government and across functional disciplines, including transportation.

Incident Command System – ICS is part of one of the operational components of NIMS and provides a framework that allows numerous agencies and jurisdictions to work together in response to any type of incident (all-hazards approach). While ICS operates on the basic principle that the majority of incidents are going to be handled at the local level, the ICS mold is flexible enough to provide a framework for effectively responding to incidents that require a multi-agency or multi-jurisdictional response.

Regardless of how many agencies or jurisdictions are involved in an evacuation effort, the same guiding principles will be used for the response. Part of a successful evacuation plan will be the utilization of ICS during an evacuation, which requires all relevant agencies and stakeholders to be familiar with and trained in ICS principles. Historically, transportation officials have less experience with ICS principles than emergency management officials; therefore, due to the integral role transportation officials play during no-notice evacuations, every effort should be made to train them in ICS.

To increase transportation officials' knowledge of ICS, FHWA created the Simplified Guide to the Incident Command System for Transportation Professionals. This document, available on FHWA's Web site, introduces ICS to stakeholders who may be called upon to provide specific expertise, assistance, or material during highway incidents, but who may be largely unfamiliar with ICS operations. It may also be beneficial to public safety professionals familiar with ICS who may not fully understand how ICS concepts are applicable to transportation agencies. In addition, FHWA will release a booklet that describes NIMS compliance for transportation organizations. This will be posted on the ETO Special Interest Page ( and by December 2007.

For more information on NIMS, compliance requirements, and course offerings, please refer to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) NIMS Integration Center Web site.


Personnel from numerous agencies will be involved in supporting an evacuation, and are likely to represent many disciplines, span different jurisdictions and levels of government, and include private organizations and companies. Effective evacuation planning requires a partnership among these stakeholders, shown in Figure 2.1, all of whom should be involved in the planning process. Gathering together these partners and stakeholders is a critical part of developing an evacuation plan and is essential to considering all factors specific to an individual jurisdiction or region. This planning process should aid jurisdictions in bringing the right partners – including the appropriate members of the transportation community – to the table.

Evacuation planning at the local, regional, and State levels should involve representatives of all departments and organizations that will have a role in an evacuation. This includes transportation and transit organizations including service patrols and other highway operations and infrastructure staff, public schools, city planners, chambers of commerce, advocates for special needs populations, and adjacent jurisdictions that may be affected by an evacuation.

ICS Organization Chart, showing the Public Information Officer, Safety Officer, and Liaison Officer under the Incident Commander. Also under the Incident Commander are the Operations Section, Planning Section, Logistics Section, and Finance/Administration Section, with all of their subunits.
Source: FEMA training material at
Figure 2.1. ICS Organization Chart.

While a no-notice incident and the resulting evacuation will likely involve a delay before State and Federal officials arrive on-scene, awareness of which agencies may be involved and the potential resources they can provide is very important. Local agencies should be prepared to act on their own without State and Federal resources in the immediate aftermath of a no-notice incident, especially during large-scale evacuations that involve more than one jurisdiction.

In instances where local resources are overtaxed and State and Federal resources are not immediately available, local agencies may have to turn to neighboring jurisdictions and the private sector for support. Affected jurisdictions can reach out to neighboring jurisdictions and private-sector organizations through previously established mutual aid agreements or stand-by contracts. In the immediate aftermath of a no-notice incident that affects another jurisdiction, assisting jurisdictions should be prepared to act and provide the necessary resources.

With locally based private sector resources and private volunteer agencies, the resources required may already be located somewhere in the affected jurisdiction. For example, transportation departments might reach out to private sector companies, including highway contractors and bus companies, for evacuation support services through existing emergency contracts. The importance of already having existing mutual aid agreements and contracts in place in regards to no-notice evacuations is discussed further in upcoming sections.

Figure 2.2 summarizes the potential roles of some of the key stakeholders in evacuation operations and illustrates the potential for officials from three levels of government (local, State, and Federal) and the private sector to be involved in an evacuation effort.


Transportation officials and agencies play key roles during an evacuation and, therefore, should play an active role in the planning process. Emergency management agencies usually lead the evacuation planning process, but transportation agencies have a broad range of knowledge and expertise that will affect the final plan. Transportation professionals can provide a wealth of information to support evacuation planning such as traffic counts, maps, and information on roadway capacity, planned highway construction, railroad crossings, and other such data necessary for the development of a good plan. Transportation officials also have access to a wide variety of tools for planning, initiating, and managing evacuations along roadways. One such transportation tool is traffic simulation modeling, which can provide insight into intersection performance and identify other potential impedances.

It is important that the DOT staff members who participate in planning forums have a comprehensive knowledge of programs and assets that may be used in an emergency. These individuals should engage internal DOT resources as necessary to ensure that the DOTs are prepared to provide multi-modal staff, resources, information, planning tools, and other assets as required to prepare a thorough and integrated emergency plan.

Category Description Location of Operations Role During Evacuation Operations
On-Scene Operational and Tactical Response Resources
Emergency managers lead and supports, including transportation (ESF #1) Local and State professional staff EOCs
  • Gather key players
  • Collect and analyze information
  • Recommend actions
  • Order and provide resources for emergency operations
Transportation Officials Local DOTs DOT Offices; TMCs and TOCs; Local EOCs
  • Collect, analyze, and report traffic information
  • Provide evacuation route plans
  • Conduct traffic incident management with first responders and local law enforcement
  • Order and provide traffic operations resources to support evacuation and other movement coordination operations
  • Provide information to the Public Information Officer at the EOC or Joint Information Center (JIC)
Decision Makers Mayors, County Commissioners, etc., and their staffs; Governors for State assistance City Hall; County; Commission Chambers; EOC
  • Collect information and expert recommendations about whether to order an evacuation, what type to order, when to order one, and how large an area to evacuate
  • Order evacuations
  • Request assistance from neighbors and State and Federal governments through mutual-aid agreements or other prescribed methods
First Responders Police, Fire, Rescue, Emergency Medical, Evacuation Operations Team Incident Command Post; On-scene
  • First line of response that may coordinate volunteers
  • Provide knowledge of local area
  • Provide on-ground damage information and identification of needed resources
  • Provide security for homes/businesses once evacuees leave
Volunteer Organizations (including Federal capabilities that serve as local assets during disasters) American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Local charities, AmeriCorps, Citizens Corps Shelters, Comfort Stations, Mobile Feeding Units, On-scene
  • Provide relief services.
  • Provide support services to those evacuating along highways, including comfort stations
  • Open and staff shelters
Private Sector Partners Highway Contractors, Trucking Industry, Towing Industry, Gasoline Suppliers, Traffic Engineers, Medical facilities, Hotel/Motel Associations EOCs and Business Locations, On-scene
  • Provide personnel, technical assistance, equipment, and supplies
  • Provide information on available transportation units, gas, food, or other commodities
  • Provide private health and medical care facilities
  • Assess and detail facility capabilities and whether they need additional assistance in evacuating patients
State Operational and Support Response Resources
Private Sector Partners State DOTs State EOC, State DOT Offices, TMCs/TOCs
  • Collect, analyze, and report traffic information and provide evacuation route plans
  • Conduct traffic incident management with first responders and local law enforcement
  • Order and provide traffic operations resources to support evacuation and other movement coordination operations
  • Provide information to FHWA and other impacted State DOT s as necessary
First Responder Support National Guard On-scene
  • Supplement first responders
  • Supply transportation services, people, food, temporary sheltering, communications, medical services, clerical services, security, etc.
Volunteer Organizations Animal Shelters, Humane Society On-scene
  • Coordinate the transportation and sheltering of animals
Volunteer Support National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD) National office in Washington, DC
  • Provide referral services and support to volunteer organizations
  • Can comprise many volunteer organizations that can support relief efforts depending on the type of disaster
National First Response Teams Urban Search and Rescue Teams, DMATs, Debris Removal On-scene
  • Supplement first responders
  • Supply transportation services, people, food, temporary sheltering, communications, medical services, clerical services, security, etc./li>
National Support Capabilities Evacuation Liaison Team FEMA Atlanta Office
  • Provide technical advice on organizing, conducting, and managing evacuations
Figure 2.2. Key Stakeholders in Evacuation Planning.

During an evacuation, EOC officials will call on transportation representatives to provide critical data. Transportation agencies can provide experts in many areas, including planning, transit, traffic engineering, highway construction, and maintenance. As an example, maintenance personnel or contractors can provide supplies en route or at rest areas and can assist with debris removal, roving highway incident responders can aid stranded motorists to clear lanes, and construction staff or contractors can assist with controlling traffic by managing the ingress to and egress from designated evacuation routes. Traffic engineering staff can provide information on the condition of the roads and potential infrastructure-related impedances, supply ITS resources, time traffic signals, and provide traffic control devices such as cones, barriers, and signs to assist in directing traffic during the evacuation.

As part of these activities, transportation agencies will need to maintain frequent communication with the emergency management agency and other entities involved in the evacuation. At the same time an EOC is activated, transportation agencies may have a TMC activated as well, and staffed with individuals trained in monitoring roadway conditions. Ideally, the EOC would be linked electronically with the TMC so that the same information can be viewed at all locations, allowing transportation staff to interpret information quickly and order assets needed by the emergency managers. In addition, particularly in cases where electronic linkages are not feasible, the relevant transportation agencies should send representatives to help staff the EOC, collect situation status information, provide technical advice on what assets the DOTs may provide, and order items. This communication strategy will allow transportation agencies both to maintain better awareness of the overall situation and to ensure that they are providing critical information to the command structure.


The first Primer in this series, Using Highways During Evacuation Operations for Events with Advance Notice, describes in detail the phases of an evacuation. The phases are summarized here to provide readers with a clear high-level understanding of the types of activities – before, during, and after an evacuation – which an effective evacuation plan will address.

Readiness Phase – The Readiness Phase does not always occur during a little- or no-notice evacuation. If it does occur, it will be brief and minimal in scope. This is the time when information about an incident becomes available, and decision makers use this information to determine whether an evacuation is necessary. After a no-notice incident there is usually a delay in the flow of information to decision makers; evacuation decisions will likely need to be made before a complete picture of the situation is available.

The numerous challenges related to an incident with a nonexistent or minimal Readiness Phase should prompt an emphasis on transportation preplanning efforts. As discussed further in later sections of this Primer, transportation officials should do as much preplanning as feasible on all aspects of their transportation infrastructure, including but not limited to possible evacuation routes; the capacity, safety, and potential chokepoints of those routes; redundant transportation capacity in case of roadway damage; locations of evacuation routes in relation to potential sheltering destinations; contra flow plans and other traffic management tactics; and up-to-date inventories of available resources.

The cycle of evacuation operation phases: Readiness, Activation, Operations, and Return-to-Readiness.

Activation Phase – The Activation Phase encompasses everything leading up to the actual evacuation of citizens. During this phase, relevant transportation officials and agencies should be made aware that an evacuation is taking place, a command structure should be established based on ICS principles, TMCs should be activated, transportation representatives should be dispatched to the EOC, evacuation routes should be decided upon, and a determination should be made about which transportation resources will be needed. Service patrols and highway engineers may be deployed or staged along evacuation routes to aid in the evacuation.

Tier 1 Operations: Evacuating People from Harm's Way – This phase involves the actual evacuation of citizens from the affected area. While there are many aspects to this phase, transportation officials should be most concerned about traffic control and traffic incident management. These issues are discussed in detail in Section 5, Planning Considerations.

Tier 2 Operations: Evacuee Re-Entry – This phase focuses on the re-entry of citizens back into the once-evacuated area. Because the Evacuee Re-Entry Phase is the same for no-notice evacuations as it is for advance notice evacuations, this Primer does not specifically address this phase. See the first Primer, Using Highways During Evacuation Operations for Events with Advance Notice, for additional information.

Return to Readiness Phase – The Return to Readiness Phase is a transition between being operational and returning to a state of planning and preparedness. Lessons learned from the evacuation should be incorporated into existing plans so that, during the next incident requiring an evacuation, the same mistakes are avoided and best practices are utilized. Because the Return to Readiness Phase is the same for no-notice evacuations as it is for advance notice evacuations, this Primer does not specifically address this phase. See the first Primer, Using Highways During Evacuation Operations for Events with Advance Notice, for additional information.


The FHWA studied several emergencies: the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and natural disasters including hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Floyd. The following common transportation themes emerged:

By keeping these transportation issues in mind during the development of an evacuation plan, plan organizers can design an evacuation in such a way as to alleviate the current disconnect between the transportation and emergency management communities. As there are always going to be incidents that cause evacuations of all types and magnitudes, the sooner transportation officials are brought into the fold, the better the coordination will be between agencies, leading to a stronger evacuation plan. The stronger the evacuation plan, the more likely it is to hold up under the stresses inherent in no-notice incidents.

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