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Photograph of meeting attendees taking notes.

By preplanning and resolving issues ahead of time, officials can ensure that the resulting plan is more likely to be actionable and successful under a broader range of no-notice evacuation scenarios.


In the planning process, the concept of operations (CONOPS) is the set of guiding principles that establishes an operational framework for the evacuation plan. It is intended to address high-level issues such as the command structure, the respective roles of participating agencies, and the approach to communications and situational awareness that will enable coordinated response activity.7 In most jurisdictions, emergency management agencies have developed a CONOPS for emergency response, and transportation planners should work with those agencies to understand the local approach to CONOPS and use it as a foundation for the evacuation plan.

Today's CONOPS must be cast within the framework of NIMS and the NRF. While the emergency management and first responder communities are accustomed to using NIMS precepts and terminology, the transportation operations community is new to the world of NIMS. There are many tools available from both FHWA and the Department of Homeland Security that may aid transportation staff in understanding NIMS and the NRF.8

For an effective evacuation plan, the CONOPS needs to be structured in a way that will support evacuation managers while taking into consideration the limitations imposed by a no-notice scenario. Most CONOPS are designed to be simple and adaptable to facilitate implementation in response to a wide variety of precipitating incidents. Simplicity and adaptability are of critical importance in the success of a no-notice evacuation. The CONOPS will need to anticipate many of the limitations detailed in Section 4, Considerations in a No-Notice Context, in this Primer. It should provide for immediate activation and expedited decision making with imperfect information and limited operational resources.

Evacuation planners must ensure that the CONOPS focuses on the transportation elements of an evacuation. In most cases, emergency management CONOPS are primarily concerned with first responder and law enforcement activity. Given the significance of transportation to an evacuation effort, this approach may need to be modified. To become more engaged in the planning process, transportation planners knowledgeable of transportation operations must establish a dialogue with the first responder communities (police, fire, and emergency medical) to expand their perspective on the role of transportation and must ensure that evacuation transportation is developed beyond its typical role as a conduit simply for the movement of people. Certain components are viewed as part of the first responder communities (e.g., service patrols used in Traffic Incident Management operations) and transportation agencies have made considerable investments in communication and information transfer technologies and systems. Therefore, an understanding must be reached among these agencies that will lead to joint planning and leverage technological, infrastructure, and staffing investments made by the transportation community to more effectively manage traffic, congestion, and incidents via the collection and distribution of real-time information. As part of developing (or rethinking) the CONOPS, invested parties need to consider the availability of transportation resources so that the CONOPS reflects the full capabilities – including those available through the DOTs – that may be used to support an evacuation. Planning conversations need to stress integration of the information and communication systems of transportation, first-responder, emergency management, and even homeland security, as well as those of TMCs and EOCs, and the importance of creating redundant or shared systems for maintaining lines of communication and situational awareness.

Flexibility is critical to successful evacuation efforts. The CONOPS should be designed to compensate for critical gaps in the preparation process resulting from the minimal or non-existent Readiness Phase of operations after a no-notice incident. Where possible, redundant measures and resources should be implemented to compensate for likely shortfalls of staff, equipment, or resources. No resource should be included in the plan without validation of its availability from the parent organization. In some cases, memoranda of understanding or mutual aid agreements may need to be established to ensure rapid access to external resources supporting the evacuation operations team.

Photo. An evacuation planning meeting with monitoring equipment in the background.
Source: FEMA/Greg Henshall.

The CONOPS sets the tone for the entire evacuation plan and should emphasize how the process it establishes can be successfully activated in response to a no-notice incident.


A robust command structure greatly improves the response capabilities of emergency management agencies to all kinds of incidents. It facilitates centralized decision through review of current information, coordinated response activities among multiple agencies at different levels of government, and the flexibility necessary for adapting to changing circumstances.

In a no-notice evacuation scenario, evacuation managers need to rapidly establish an appropriate command structure that will enable an effective response to identify, move, and safeguard the at-risk population. This is much more likely to occur successfully if a jurisdiction has established a clear set of protocols and procedures with regard to how an emergency response command structure will be initiated, organized, and implemented across multiple agencies and jurisdictions.

The transportation community should not expect to play a lead role in establishing and managing a command structure; however, it needs to be familiar with how the structure works, the hierarchy that will be followed by first responders, and the protocols and standard operating procedures that will be employed. It may be called upon to serve a role in a Multi-Agency Coordination Group, as defined by NIMS and depending upon the importance of transportation to the evacuation process. Many instances exist in which transportation staff, particularly highway incident response and maintenance crews and transportation management staff, are the first to detect and respond to an incident. They need to be able to provide valuable, real-time situation status and damage reports, assess conditions and needs, and make decisions that will trigger a local or regional notification process. This requires that transportation and first responder staffs be familiar with their roles and responsibilities in an evacuation, how best to engage one another during an incident, and how to support interoperable communications. TMCs, such as Houston Transtar and those operated by Caltrans, are examples of successful endeavors to integrate and cross-train members of these disciplines. Transportation personnel who need to understand the incident command structure and engage with first responders include transportation planners and operations staff, district and county engineers, transportation management staff, dispatchers, and roadway crews. This requires defining methods for coordination and communication with emergency management staff and first responders and becoming familiar with NIMS, communication protocols, and standard operating procedures.

The following actions should be considered for inclusion in the plan development process, to ensure that the command structure used during an evacuation will be prepared to support the operational requirements of a no-notice evacuation:

Identify all entities – The command structure will, by necessity, depend on the agencies and organizations that it oversees. Many emergency management and law enforcement entities have already established command protocols that work well for them during emergencies. An evacuation, however, will involve a broader range of participants, some of whom will likely not be experienced with formal command structures in an emergency context. Evacuations require a diverse set of resources that will require the involvement of entities such as transportation agencies (public and private), public works departments, schools, hospitals, towing companies, and other service providers. The overarching command structure should be compatible with the respective command structures and operating procedures of all entities to ensure their full involvement. In most cases, the overall command structure will follow the guidance set forth in the jurisdiction's Emergency Management Plan, and will likely be coordinated through the emergency management department.

Pre-determine authorities – Every jurisdiction has its own enabling legislation regarding the authority of different parties in emergency situations. Evacuation planners should clarify and document these as part of the command structure development and include them in the CONOPS.

In most jurisdictions, the local emergency management agency or department has the authority to coordinate an emergency response, including an evacuation, but the legislation may vary. Some locales assign this authority to the mayor or City Hall, some delegate this authority to an emergency management agency.

Resolving these questions before an incident occurs will allow a jurisdiction to respond immediately without having to wait for a legal interpretation on which individuals/agencies have the authority to make such decisions. This is especially important because, with a no-notice incident, an immediate response could be the difference between lives saved and lives lost. No decision maker wants inaction to be a contributing factor to the loss of life of citizens; addressing issues of authority in the preplanning process will mitigate this possibility.

Identify levels of command – The command structure may need to accommodate multiple levels of command depending on local practices. Many jurisdictions employ a multi-tiered structure to facilitate overall coordination at a city- or jurisdiction-wide level while also using on-site command to coordinate emergency response activities. The command structure of the evacuation plan should be consistent with, or at least compatible with, established protocols in this regard. The plan should consider how transportation agencies will fit into this structure and how the activities which they will be conducting during an evacuation correspond to the different levels of command.

Establish command transfer protocols – Over the course of a large-scale emergency, particularly one affecting multiple jurisdictions, it is likely that overall command of the evacuation management will transfer between agencies over time so that command and management activities are always conducted by the agency with the proper authority, expertise, and resources for the given circumstances. Evacuation planners can set parameters to determine which agency will be in command of an evacuation under each set of conditions or circumstances; relevant factors include the geographic scope of the evacuation and the types of staff and resources involved in the response. This will help establish a clear protocol which agencies can use during an evacuation to understand how and why command will be transferred, thus maintaining a clear hierarchy within the overall command structure. Procedures for transferring command should also be prepared; these will enable incoming commanders to quickly get a full understanding of the situation and the response efforts to date.

Adhere to the NIMS – NIMS is a comprehensive national approach to incident management, applicable at all jurisdictional levels and across functional disciplines, which improves the effectiveness of emergency response. It comprises a set of operating principles and guidelines designed to provide a consistent approach to incident response management and improve the ability of agencies to work together effectively and efficiently. It is recommended that the evacuation plan be developed in accordance with NIMS principles and protocols. Of particular importance is ICS, which establishes a standard organizational structure for incident management and which is particularly important during an evacuation involving many different types of agencies with varying levels of experience in emergency management and response. NIMS and ICS will help foster better coordination among such agencies.

Establish situational awareness and communications protocols – It is critically important that the agencies and officials in command roles during an evacuation have access to data about the current state of events, as well as the ability to communicate that information and operational orders to the other agencies and organizations under their command. Collection, processing, and sharing of data on a rapid, real-time basis should be integrated as key activities of the overall command structure, and the CONOPS should be designed to support these goals. This will include the status of the transportation network and the systems and resources supporting it, meaning that transportation agencies need to consider how they can contribute to overall situational awareness and communications capabilities, as well as what their needs will be during an evacuation.


A large-scale evacuation is a highly resource-intensive undertaking. It requires significant staffing, facilities, and equipment to collect and coordinate information, establish a management structure, coordinate evacuation activity in the field, and activate and operate sheltering facilities. Evacuation planners will benefit greatly from leveraging all of the available resources within their service area during an evacuation. The majority of these resources will be provided by specific agencies, organizations, and private-sector entities, all of whom will be participating in the evacuation effort in one way or another. Through the involvment of all relevant agencies in the planning process, it will become apparent which agencies are best equipped to handle different aspects of the evacuation.

In a no-notice evacuation, time will be of the essence in mobilizing the agencies, organizations, and other stakeholders who will support the management of the evacuation. The mobilization process can be streamlined considerably if prior work has been done to identify the stakeholders who will be involved in an evacuation and to ensure that they understand their respective roles and responsibilities within the context of the overall evacuation effort.

Emergency management and first responder agencies traditionally have conducted the planning process for evacuations and other emergency incidents. One of the challenges facing some stakeholders is that emergency management planners may not fully understand what transportation agencies and other specialized organizations can contribute to the planning and operations phases of an evacuation. These specialized entities need to take an active role in the planning process to ensure that their capabilities are understood and accounted for properly, and that their input is incorporated into the plan. Transportation agencies should be involved in the planning process from the beginning and actively include themselves in all planning phases and activities of the process. This will ensure that their capabilities are leveraged effectively and that there are no false expectations about what they will or will not be able to do during an evacuation.

The planning process should take into account and involve all agencies and entities that will participate in declaring, executing, and supporting evacuation and sheltering efforts. This should encompass all levels of involvement: local, regional, State, Federal, non-profit, and private. Planners should consider multiple categories of involvement, including:

First Photo - Fire fighters responding to an incident. Second Photo - Police officer directing emergency responders toward incident site.  Third Photo -  City bus providing public transportation services. Fourth Photo - The emergency entrance of a hospital. Fifth Photo - A camera person working to provide the public with incident information. Sixth Photo - Roadside automobile assistance provider transporting an inoperative vehicle.

By involving these stakeholders in the process from an early stage, planners can help ensure a common understanding among all involved parties regarding operational goals, command structure, roles and responsibilities, and respective capabilities. Participants will also be able to inform the planning process by providing information about their operational resources and limitations, as well as specialized knowledge of the transportation network, sheltering facilities, and support infrastructure. All of this information will ideally be factored into the development of the evacuation plan.

It is also important to consider integrating neighboring jurisdictions, regional planning organizations, and State and Federal resources into the plan, either by including them at the table or ensuring that plans are coordinated with any entity that may be called upon for support. Emergency managers and evacuation planners should address in advance any needed mechanisms for cooperation and support among the stakeholders. These can include memoranda of understanding, mutual aid agreements, and contract provisions to help clarify respective roles and resources.9 This process can be particularly important for private sector companies who do not assume that they automatically have responsibility during an emergency, but who sometimes have the ability to provide critical services and support resources for evacuation and sheltering activities.

The success of a no-notice evacuation will be improved if all participating stakeholders are prepared to perform their respective roles. Once the planning process has been completed, all stakeholders should be encouraged to undertake their own respective advanced planning and preparedness activities. These will ideally include staff training and exercises for the plan, identification of internal staff and resources to participate in evacuation support, resource inventory and management, internal contingency planning, and preparation of continuity of operations activities. In many cases, agencies should conduct meetings and joint training efforts with each other to improve their ability to coordinate effectively during an evacuation. By helping stakeholders become better prepared to support an evacuation, emergency managers will benefit from improved capabilities and response during an actual no-notice incident. Neighboring jurisdictions and the State should be invited to participate in drills and training as appropriate.

For transportation agencies to become more fully engaged in the planning and the execution of an evacuation, they must be perceived as stakeholders. Transportation agencies should integrate evacuation planning and emergency management services into their core operations by identifying and committing staff and defining staff roles and responsibilities for interacting with State, regional, and local emergency management staff. This may require an organizational shift and willingness on the part of agency management to shift financial resources and commit staff.

Individuals who understand travel demand, roadway capacity, and traffic management need to be engaged in evacuation planning and to be perceived by the outside world as credible evacuation planners. These individuals are most prepared to identify and assess transportation-related strategies and tactics, demonstrate the value of employing transportation simulation modeling and geographical information systems, and secure the adoption of the use of these tools by emergency management staff and first responders. For transportation representatives to be most effective in the planning phases, they must be fully knowledgeable of the capabilities - infrastructure, operations, maintenance, information management, etc. - which the DOT and its contractors bring to the table. Most importantly, the representative must have the authority to commit the DOT resources to any plan and must be a vocal, active partner in the process.


The stakeholders identified in the evacuation plan, shown in Figure 5.1, will each have a number of responsibilities and sets of activities to perform during an evacuation. These should be established as part of the overall plan development process to ensure that all aspects of evacuation support are addressed adequately. Planners should make sure that the distribution of responsibilities is a logical one, given the differing expertise, capabilities, and resources of an agency or organization.

Stakeholders involved in Evacuation, showing the many entities that contribute to a successful evacuation. Entities include: Executive Government, Emergency Responders, Transportation Management, Transportation Providers, Public Works Agencies, Communications Providers, Emergency Care Providers, Private Services Providers, and the Media.
Figure 5.1. Stakeholders Involved in Evacuation.

In a no-notice context, it is critical that each agency and organization be prepared to conduct its activities properly in order to effectively support the overall evacuation effort. An agency needs to assess its own resources and capabilities to make a realistic determination of what it will be able to do during a no-notice incident. These capabilities often vary according to time of day and other circumstances. Many transportation agencies, for example, have varying levels of staff on duty over a 24-hour cycle; during a low-staff period, a transportation agency may be much more limited in the level of support it can provide. Some capabilities, particularly those involving specialized systems, may need to be operated by staff with particular training or expertise; if those people are unable to report to duty, those systems will be unavailable for use. The assessment should also be sensitive to the need for immediate activation and implementation in a no-notice scenario.

Within a transportation agency, a range of technical specialists needs to be prepared to contribute to the operational aspects of an evacuation. Policies and procedures for activating these resources must be established and staff must be trained on how their areas of expertise are applicable to incident detection and incident response and recovery. Dedicating the right staff to supporting an emergency response is dependent upon their knowledge of roadway conditions and equipment, congestion and incident management technological deployments, and information system applications. They must also have the capacity to rapidly synthesize information that is being gathered and transmitted for decision making purposes. Evacuation planning, particularly for no-notice incidents, requires integrating roles, responsibilities, and functions along with technologies and systems similar to those in many of the country's TMCs. Once integration has occurred, agencies can identify the worst case no-notice scenario and test the capability limitations of their staffs and supporting information systems. They can then take steps to mitigate those limitations through additional staff training and resource procurement to achieve enhanced staff coordination and establish a level of redundancy for critical systems and operations.

The emergence of TMCs is dependent upon systems integration and interoperability to provide real-time information. In order for evacuation planning to translate into action once an incident occurs, systems integration and interoperability limitations need to be identified and addressed beforehand. This requires securing technology and developing systems that meet industry standards and that can be integrated with those that are being deployed by the emergency management community.


The most critical element of an evacuation is the population of evacuees. All activities and efforts should be focused on moving these people from the at-risk area to places of safety. The size and characteristics of this population are, of course, significant factors in determining how an evacuation will be executed.

Evacuation planners must understand the people who are likely to be evacuated before they can make key decisions about transportation modes, route selections, sheltering destinations, and the many other elements of an evacuation effort designed to support the safe and efficient movement of evacuees.

DOT Functions Relevant to Evacuation Planning and Management
  • Infrastructure maintenance and restoration, including road weather management
  • Transportation planning, including evacuation planning, planning for special events, and route planning
  • Debris removal from highways, bridges, rail lines, etc.
  • Traffic incident management, including service patrols and supplies for stranded motorists (safety equipment, signs, tire repair, gasoline, etc.)
  • Information collection, analysis, and processing (traffic counters, cameras, etc.)
  • Public communication (511, messaging systems)
  • Work zone management
  • Freight management
  • Personnel trained and experienced in emergency operations

Demographic forecasting drives transportation planning, specifically determining the impact of the evacuation on a corridor or system and estimating existing and future travel demand between origination and destination zones. Transportation agency planners need to play a contributing and sometimes a leading role in the identification and movement of population groups. The availability of data maintained by the DOTs, along with an understanding of region-wide vulnerabilities, provides a basis for establishing actionable strategies in advance of an incident. Population data and demographic information regarding automobile ownership and transit dependency may be included in regional DOT-managed travel demand models. These models also provide a framework for improving preparedness; they can be used to evaluate staging locations, determine final destinations, and test the ramifications of releasing evacuees onto a transportation network during peak and non-peak periods. This requires engaging the staffs of metropolitan planning organizations that have played a historic role in the development and application of regional transportation models. As domain experts, they are some of the most qualified individuals in any metropolitan area who can prepare geographically based demographic forecasts. Critical factors to consider include the following:

Disability/Special Need Additional Steps
Visually impairedMay be extremely reluctant to leave familiar surroundings when the request for evacuation comes from a stranger. A guide dog could become confused or disoriented in a disaster. People who are blind or partially sighted may have to depend on others to lead them, as well as their dogs, to safety during a disaster.
Hearing impairedMay need to make special arrangements to receive warnings.
Mobility impairedMay need special assistance such as paratransit to get to a shelter.
Single working parentMay need help to plan for disasters and emergencies about location and safety of a child.
Non-English-speaking personsMay need assistance planning for and responding to emergencies. Community and cultural groups may be able to help keep people informed.
People without vehiclesNeed to have information about public transit routes and services, as well as other private sector transit services.
People with special dietary needsShould take special precautions to have an adequate emergency food supply.
People with medical conditionsShould know the location and availability of more than one facility if dependent on a dialysis machine or other life-sustaining equipment or treatment.
People with mental retardationMay need help responding to emergencies and getting to a shelter.
People with dementiaShould be registered in the Alzheimer's Association Safe Return Program.
Figure 5.2. Special Needs Populations.

Evacuation planners can use readily available demographic data to answer many of the questions posed here. Federal census data provide a detailed overview regarding population sizes and distribution, as well as other statistics such as income level, work location, and car ownership. Planners can also work with specialized organizations such as hospitals, medical associations, public service organizations, school districts, universities, and tourism bureaus to identify relevant population segments, their characteristics, and the types of assistance they will need.

Geographic information systems can be used to analyze available data, to highlight key aspects of the potential evacuation populations. Sites such as population centers, critical facilities and special needs population locations can be mapped in juxtaposition to the transportation network, travel corridors, and sheltering locations. Doing so enables evacuation planners to better anticipate how evacuees can be moved most effectively during a no-notice evacuation scenario, and immediate access to this information directly after a precipitating incident will significantly improve evacuation management.


A key aspect of projecting evacuation population sizes is anticipating which geographic areas are likely to be involved in a no-notice evacuation. Although many precipitating incidents occur without warning, the locations or sources of certain types of localized incidents can be anticipated in advance, as can the areas that will require the most coordination for an evacuation. Advanced planning for evacuations can identify locations and areas where a coordinated evacuation effort is most likely to be needed.

Most large cities have identifiable population centers (both residential populations and daytime work populations) that will generate high numbers of evacuees if placed at risk after an event. In addition, many of these areas are – by virtue of their high profile or proximity to high-profile sites – potential targets for terrorist attacks that may also cause people to be evacuated. These locations can be mapped against population distributions to determine the potential number of evacuees resulting from an incident in a given location.

Jurisdictions may also have specific sites or facilities that pose potential hazards and that may be responsible for generating an evacuation. These include power plants, fuel processing/storage sites, laboratories, or other research facilities working with hazardous materials, and manufacturing plants with large quantities of on-site chemicals. In addition, major transportation routes, such as trucking corridors, freight rail lines, waterways or even pipelines that are used to ship materials, could carry hazardous materials through jurisdictions and could be the site of an incident that forces the evacuation of population centers.11 If an incident occurs at one of these sites, it may generate a hazard of sufficient size and severity to warrant an evacuation. Such facilities can be identified through existing community hazard and vulnerability assessment results, and those that are of particular concern should be analyzed further to determine the likelihood and consequences of a mishap. Planners can then use demographics data and geographic information system tools to develop projections of the at-risk populations based on the nature of the facility and the presumed hazard.

Top photo - The Golden Gate Bridge. Middle photo - Water falling through a dam. Bottom photo - A tunnel for automobile traffic.

Evacuation planners should engage local staff to identify locations of potential evacuations. They can then map significant evacuee populations against the proposed evacuation transportation and sheltering network to determine projected demand levels on their chosen travel routes and corridors. Emergency management agencies typically take the lead in such efforts, but transportation agencies can play a key supporting role by providing information about transportation routes and modes.


The transportation infrastructure – including roads, highways, bridges, waterways, rail lines, and pipelines – constitutes a critical component of a successful evacuation; however, it is highly vulnerable. The transportation network poses a potentially attractive target for terrorist attacks. It can also be weakened during natural incidents such as earthquakes, floods, or volcanic eruptions. Transportation/evacuation planners must be able to identify critical infrastructure components and consider the consequences of failure before or during an evacuation. This planning requires knowing where redundant transportation capacity exists within the roadway system so that flows of evacuees can be redirected around vulnerable or damaged infrastructure, and being able to communicate this knowledge to emergency managers who are coordinating field operations. In some cases, alternate routes may lie within neighboring jurisdictions or states, necessitating coordination with partner agencies outside the affected jurisdiction. Other modes (transit, boats, etc.) can also be considered to establish redundancy, assuming they are not already being used to transport evacuees. Debris-clearing capabilities among support agencies (DOT, public works, etc.) can also help to maintain the viability of primary routes even after some degree of damage has occurred.

Transportation planners should create geographically based databases that profile critical infrastructure and consider strategies for how to shift evacuees in the event of infrastructure failure. The databases and the potential strategies should be shared with emergency management and first responder staff and then tested as part of tabletop exercises.


Once planners have determined the number and geographic distribution of potential evacuees, these statistics can be analyzed against the transportation network that will be used to conduct the evacuation. It is important to note that while this Primer focuses on issues associated with highway use during an evacuation, in many places other transportation modes and routes will likely be employed. The term "transportation network" is intended to refer to all the modes used during an evacuation, although roads and highways will likely carry the majority of evacuation traffic in most locations and will be the focus of capacity analysis. An evacuation is also likely to include large numbers of pedestrians traveling on the road network; this traffic needs to be factored into the overall capacity analysis as well.

In most evacuation scenarios, and particularly those in a no-notice context, the agencies managing an evacuation will need to rely on the existing transportation network to carry evacuees to safety from at-risk areas. Identifying and analyzing all the components of the transportation network is an important element of evacuation planning. Each component should be reviewed to determine critical characteristics, including:

Transportation agencies are critical to this process because they have the knowledge and expertise to generate the needed data. Most already have existing transportation studies and analyses with information about traffic capacities; many agencies also have the specialized tools (such as modeling software) to generate data relevant to evacuation preparation.

When planning an evacuation, transportation managers should consider all transportation options, including all modes, as viable alternatives. Although roadway and highway networks will be principal conduits for moving a large number of people, the nature and consequences of a range of events will dictate which transportation options are best. The consideration of an evacuation, particularly one that requires mass movement of people, requires identifying the transportation options available within pre-defined, sub-regional corridors. With the foreknowledge of capacity and availability of transportation resources – roadway and fixed guideway transit, pedestrians, bicycles and waterways – decisions can be made as to how to distribute evacuees among modes, and whether or not additional transit and alternative high-occupancy vehicles should be deployed.

First photo - Computer depiction of interstate activity in on-ramp and off-ramp area. Second photo - Digital simulation of automobile response to navigation aids such as cones and barriers. Third photo - Digital detail of on-ramp and off-ramp interstate area. Fourth photo - Computerized traffic monitoring display.
Source: Quadstone Paramics.
Reproduced with permission.

Major interdependencies exist in major metropolitan areas that are served by multiple modes of transportation. Transit systems and commuter rail systems operate in densely traveled corridors that are also served by those highways that will be identified as evacuation routes. Highway connectivity is essential for moving people onto or collecting individuals at transit and rail stations and termini, or to ferries and ports of call, such as cruise ship terminals. Evacuation planners need to consider how to maximize the capacity of each component of the transportation network as an integrated whole. This also includes consideration the types of roadway vehicles that should be operating in conjunction with transit and rail operations as well as feasible maritime resources.

After a no-notice incident, movement by foot will be the first and sometimes the only choice for many evacuees. Even once an incident command is established to manage the incident, pedestrian movement could be the best and most efficient method of evacuation, at least from those areas closest to the site of the incident. Evacuation planning should address how to gather and protect pedestrians at or near the location of the incident and how to support those with limited mobility, and should establish tactics for emergency management staff and first responders. Transportation planners should establish a regional pedestrian network that is consistent with the roadway and highway systems, and develop geographically based databases displaying pedestrian paths. This planning requires identifying sidewalks and trails, crosswalks, intersections, bridges and tunnels, and other possible barriers that impede pedestrian movement.

Once the components of the transportation network have been identified and profiled, the data can be used to develop a comprehensive understanding of the transportation network. This network can be considered within the context of a no-notice evacuation to determine traffic loads and congestion in relation to factors such as projected at-risk areas, vehicle and evacuee numbers, likely directions of travel, and destinations.

In support of this endeavor, planners should employ transportation demand models to determine how best to manage system-wide capacity under different scenarios, including no-notice incidents. These models are typically suited to testing and decision making regarding roadway capacity; however, they include limited capabilities for estimating modal diversions. Key factors such as the size of an evacuation and the time of day will drive capacity utilization. In turn, this will affect decisions on staging and how to best move evacuees. All too frequently during the course of the day, major metropolitan areas are already operating at close to capacity. The consequence of an evacuation requiring the movement of a great number of additional people could result in gridlock unless traffic operations professionals, traffic incident managers, full-function service patrols, emergency managers, and first responders are prepared to implement a range of alternative transportation tactics.

If feasible, jurisdictions can incorporate these data into a traffic modeling framework that will allow further analysis of traffic routes, traffic loads, and congestion management tactics. This work would support the selection of appropriate evacuation routes and strategies to be incorporated into the overall planning process. This will enable evacuation managers to make better decisions during a no-notice evacuation because they will have a good knowledge of how evacuees should be distributed within the transportation network.


The efficient and expeditious flow of evacuation traffic is the most critical element in a successful evacuation and, at the same time, the most challenging, especially in a no-notice environment. The viability of the traffic management plan employed during an evacuation will directly influence the safety and comfort of the evacuees.

Photo. Private transportation assistance being given to the elderly and the disabled.
Source: FEMA/Greg Henshall.

As the subject matter experts, local transportation planners play a vital role in developing the traffic management strategies and tactics included in the evacuation plan. They have the comprehensive understanding of the regional transportation network necessary to identify ways to improve the carrying capacity of roadways and transit systems in a safe manner, while taking into consideration the likely constraints of a no-notice context incident. Planners will enable decision makers to determine:

Planners have a wide range of traffic management options from which to choose, as illustrated in Figure 5.3. Examples include implementing contraflow; waiving tolls on bridges, tunnels, and transit; blocking on-ramps and off-ramps in relevant locations; and adjusting timing of traffic signals on key routes. The challenge is to identify those strategies that provide the greatest increase in carrying capacity while imposing realistic time and resource requirements for implementation.

Tactic Description
No changes to normal roadway operationsNo implementation of any specialized traffic management tactics.
Phased releases of outbound vehicles through timed control of major parking centersCoordinated release of parking facilities would theoretically reduce congestion on evacuation routes. To accomplish implementation of this tactic, parking facilities would be inventoried and categorized according to size, location, or other relevant factors. A phased release protocol would be developed that would provide for gradual release of privately owned vehicles from downtown parking facilities. This would theoretically modulate vehicular congestion on designated evacuation routes.
Reduction of outbound vehicles through closure of major parking centers (i.e., forcing car owners to evacuate via walking transit)

Closure of inbound lanes on selected roads and highways

Closure of outbound off-ramps on limited-access roads and highways
Long-term closure of major parking facilities during an evacuation event would reduce the number of vehicles on evacuation routes and thus would theoretically improve travel times on these routes during an evacuation.

Closure of inbound lanes on highways utilized for evacuation routes would prevent motorists on these routes from entering the city while the evacuation is underway.

Closure of outbound off-ramps on highways utilized for evacuation routes would keep evacuees on these routes until they reached planned evacuation destinations.
Closure of inbound lanes on selected roads and highwaysClosure of inbound lanes on highways utilized for evacuation routes would prevent motorists on these routes from entering the city while the evacuation is underway.
Closure of outbound off-ramps on limited-access roads and highwaysClosure of outbound off-ramps on highways utilized for evacuation routes would keep evacuees on these routes until they reached planned evacuation destinations.
Closure of outbound on-ramps on limited-access roads and highwaysThis tactic would involve closure of outbound on-ramps on designated evacuation routes to reduce congestion on these roadways due to traffic originating at intermediate locations between evacuation origins and destinations.
Limited contra flow on selected limited-access roads and highways (e.g., one lane for bus convoys, etc.)Limited contra flow on selected roads is a tactic by which one or more lanes of highway are reversed to accommodate an increased flow of traffic in one direction. Contra flow has been implemented as a component of hurricane evacuation planning in certain southern and southeastern states, but is not a common feature of many disaster evacuation plans because of the need for a long lead time prior to the evacuation event during which the contra flow can be established.
Unlimited contra flow on selected limited-access roads and highways with all normally inbound lanes used for outbound trafficAn unlimited contra flow tactic would include redirection of all lanes of a designated evacuation route to accommodate rapid evacuation from a city or region. This is a tactic that lends itself primarily to limited access roadways.
Limited/unlimited contra flow on selected unlimited-access arterialsTemporary closure of inbound travel lanes on selected unlimited-access arterial roadways (such as parkways and boulevards) allows outbound traffic to utilize these lanes during an evacuation.
Traffic control pointsTraffic control points are locations along designated evacuation routes which are staffed by emergency management personnel and utilized to maintain a greater degree of evacuation management. Traffic control points can enhance the efficiency of an evacuation, reduce public confusion during an evacuation, and allow increased operational flexibility during an evacuation.
Segregation of pedestrian and vehicle trafficCertain urban roadways would be designated for use by pedestrians. This would provide separation between vehicles and pedestrians during an evacuation, thus reducing confusion and increasing the efficiency of evacuation from densely populated areas.
Figure 5.3. Traffic Management Tactics.

There is no universal answer for the question of which tactics should be selected. The best choices will be driven by the unique characteristics of each region's transportation network and emergency management structure, and determined through traffic simulation testing. Planners will need to consider many factors during the planning process:

If possible, transportation planners should employ traffic modeling to test the routes and tactics to be included in the evacuation plan. This will provide data to help quantify the benefits of different strategies and support an informed decision as to the best strategies for the particular region and transportation network.12


Evacuation planners do not need only to enable the movement of at-risk populations to areas of safety; they need to arrange care and sheltering for those populations as well. While the elements involved in selecting and preparing sheltering facilities for an evacuation are beyond the scope of this document, there are some issues associated with shelters that should be addressed as part of the planning considerations.

The most important issue is that sheltering facilities must be identified, assessed, and prepared in advance of being needed to be able to support a no-notice evacuation. A no-notice scenario will not provide sufficient time to provision facilities and train their staffs; these activities must be done ahead of time to ensure readiness.

Evacuation planners should pre-identify sheltering facilities in order to evaluate their locations in relation to proposed evacuation routes and other components of the transportation network. Planners should assess shelters' locations, as well as their capacities, facilities, and resources, in relation to how evacuee traffic will be routed. If, for example, the major evacuation routes run north-to-south from a city but the viable shelters are east and west of the city, route evaluation needs to be undertaken during the route selection process. Transportation planners should coordinate with emergency managers, the American Red Cross, and other stakeholders responsible for mass care to understand which shelters can be used and make determinations about how to direct evacuation traffic to those destinations. In some cases, certain shelters may be poor candidates for use due to poor connections with the transportation network; transportation planners need to communicate this information to the stakeholders responsible for establishing the shelters. Most critically, it is important that the jurisdictions where the shelters are pre-identified know about these plans and concur. During past disasters there have been instances where jurisdictions have denied entry to evacuees and refused to allow trains and buses to off-load at the shelters.

For large-scale, medium- and long-term evacuations, transportation planners need to assess the transportation network's ability to enable re-supply and provisioning of the sheltering locations. Some facilities may be easily accessible by air or water that, while being impractical for mass evacuee movement, may be very practical for bringing in food and supplies. This will factor into evaluation and selection of sheltering locations.

The selection and preparation of shelters needs to include consideration of the populations they will be used to protect. The many groups who will require specialized facilities and services during sheltering include evacuees from hospitals and nursing homes who will need medical facilities; people with vision, hearing, or mobility impairment who need special provisions; and pet owners who need places to shelter their animals as well as themselves. Sheltering facilities will be able to accommodate such special needs groups to varying degrees, depending on their facilities. Evacuation planners should determine whether such special needs groups should be routed to particular shelters and how to incorporate such specialized direction into the evacuation plan.13

In some cases, transportation planners may need to identify short-term interim sheltering locations as part of the evacuation transportation plan. These can serve as collection points for evacuees who have walked or ridden transit from the at-risk area, and who now must wait for secondary transport (buses, etc.) to longer-term sheltering facilities. As with the long-term shelters, these short-term options need to be pre-identified in relation to the transportation network and evacuation routes so that they can be incorporated into the evacuation plan and be prepared in advance to support a no-notice evacuation.


Situational awareness is critical to the successful execution of an evacuation. After a no-notice incident, evacuation managers need accurate, up-to-date information in order to make quick and effective decisions regarding evacuation tactics and the deployment of resources. Key factors of which they need to be aware include:

Frame of a real-time video from a camera overlooking a highway.
Source: Massachusetts Highway Department.

The evacuation plan should specify how coordinating and participating agencies will collect, analyze and share relevant information quickly after a precipitating incident. Planners need to determine the key topics on which to focus during initial time period, how to collect that information, and how to transmit the information to a range of stakeholders.

As part of this determination, each stakeholder should identify the systems and methods they have for collecting and providing critical information. Transportation agencies in particular are well-positioned to compile some of the information listed above. Through resources such as embedded road sensors, traffic cameras, and other ITS components, they can rapidly determine the state of the transportation network. More importantly, they can typically process this information rapidly at specialized facilities such as local and regional TMCs.

Transportation agencies can improve the evacuation planning and preparedness process through two activities. First, determine the specific information collection capabilities provided by their systems and staff, identify where vulnerabilities might exist, and communicate these capabilities and vulnerabilities to the evacuation planners. This will ensure that the plan leverages the available information while retaining realistic expectations for information availability. Second, transportation agencies should train their staff and prepare their systems to maximize their information collection capabilities, particularly on short notice for no-notice scenarios. These activities may include training additional staff to operate ITS systems, augmenting systems to expand their capabilities, reinforcing system hardware and networks to ensure continued operations during adverse conditions, and performing planning duties at the EOC as a technical expert.

A final consideration is how to share the information collected by transportation agencies systems and TMCs with other agencies and emergency management facilities.

Photo. East-bound and west-bound traffic on an interstate and traffic cameras overlooking the highway.


During an evacuation or other large-scale emergency response, two types of communication take place: (1) communications among entities involved in the management of the response and (2) communication between the emergency management structure and the general public. Each of these levels of communication can involve different goals, tools, and challenges.

An effective evacuation plan will describe how information will be shared among agencies and organizations involved in the response effort. These entities must be able to communicate in order to promote situational awareness at all levels and to ensure a reliable command structure and need to be able to share the following types of information:

These communications will rely on the agencies' existing communications systems and protocols because a no-notice incident will not provide enough time to establish evacuation-specific hardware and routines before they are needed. Additionally, a no-notice scenario will place greater demands on the communications network because all participating agencies act simultaneously while requiring information and instructions from other agencies. Moreover, the normal communication network may be saturated with the general public making a high volume of calls, emergency responders reporting on situation status, agencies coordinating with each other, and disaster welfare inquiries initiated from out of the area. As a result, plans should address alternate means of communicating during the initial activation period.

All of these issues mean that agencies involved in the evacuation management need to prepare their communications capabilities in advance. Each needs to ensure the reliability and compatibility of its systems and procedures with the overall command structure. One of the most common challenges facing multi-agency coordination is a lack of compatibility among communications systems. Agencies, including transportation departments, need to test their equipment on a regular basis for interoperability with other agencies' equipment. Any incompatibilities in the communications network need to be identified and resolved to prevent a potentially significant communications gap during an emergency. This is typically most applicable to wireless communications systems such as radios used by field staff; differing systems protocols and operating frequencies often prevent field staff from different agencies from communicating directly with each other. In the best-case scenario, transportation first responders, such as full-function service patrols, work crews, or maintenance staff, will have communication equipment that is tested and found to be interoperable with local police and fire departments. If not, frequency managers should ensure that these transportation entities have access to emergency frequencies and that these are known in advance during planning.

Transportation agencies face an additional interoperability challenge. As the primary collectors of information about the transportation network, they need to ensure that they can achieve data communications interoperability with other agencies and facilities. They should evaluate their TMCs to determine how the traffic information can be formatted and transmitted in a way that makes it accessible at other sites, such as EOCs, where evacuation managers will need to obtain and make use of it. This may require the presence of specialized staff, hardware or software at the other sites to receive and present the information to EOC staff.

Communications plans need to anticipate the contingencies that will arise during a no-notice evacuation. One way to prepare is to have tested intra- and inter-agency plans and procedures in advance. Plans must recognize that field staff from transportation agencies and other entities may be working out of range of their base communications network and should provide for an alternate means of communication. Likewise, plans should anticipate that one or more primary communications systems may be rendered inoperable during a wide-scale incident and should identify alternate systems and protocols.

Evacuation managers must also be able to communicate with the general public. Planners need to ensure that the agencies can provide clear, consistent messages to the public regarding information such as the declaration of evacuation, status of precipitating incident, directions for evacuation and sheltering, updates on transportation and sheltering options, and re-entry after the evacuation. Much of this communication will rely on traditional methods such as broadcast media (television and radio), Web sites, and localized announcements through public address systems.

Transportation agencies can contribute to public communication, particularly with regard to providing updates to evacuees who are traveling within the transportation network. Evacuees will both want and need updated information to guide their actions, but this can be challenging while they are in motion. Many agencies can use traveler-oriented information systems to provide transportation-specific information. Likely options include both fixed and mobile variable message signs on the highways; highway advisory radio broadcasts; and 511 Traveler Information Systems accessible by phone. To expedite and improve the use of these systems during a no-notice scenario, transportation agencies should work with evacuation planners to identify likely communications needs and then prepare internal procedures, pre-formatted messages, and interagency procedures to ensure that useful and accurate information is provided to the public.


Emergency management and response agencies need to prepare the public for a potential evacuation in advance. An evacuation – particularly in a no-notice context – can be executed much more smoothly if the public is properly prepared. Ensuring that evacuees, who are the largest stakeholder group in an evacuation, know terminology, what to do, and where to go will greatly assist emergency managers during an evacuation. Members of the public need to know the following:

A no-notice evacuation scenario highlights the need for evacuees to be as self-reliant as possible. Emergency responders will mobilize to the best of their ability but their capabilities will likely be more limited than during an advance-notice scenario due to limited staffing, responders who have become victims themselves, and a limited period of preparedness. When the public has a better understanding of what to expect during an evacuation and how to prepare themselves, they will be able to be more self-reliant during the actual evacuation: have a personal emergency preparedness kit, bring sufficient food and water, understand where they should go and how to get there, and know where to obtain information being broadcast to the public. This will lessen the burden on emergency responders and enable them to focus on those segments of the evacuation population who require the most assistance.

Emergency planners should implement mechanisms to inform the public of how to prepare for an evacuation and educate them on the different protective action options for various types of scenarios. Successful past efforts for public education include community seminars and preparedness pamphlets distributed to residents and businesses. Information can also be posted on agency Web sites.

Transportation agencies should consider what information they need the public to understand in advance of an evacuation. What will better prepare evacuees to anticipate and understand how an evacuation will progress? Transportation planners should consider how they will want evacuees to use the transportation network. Is it worthwhile to distribute a map of likely evacuation routes in advance, with route-specific information such as the fact that bridge tolls will be waived on a given route, or that another route will have limited availability of gasoline for automobile refueling? Do planners want to encourage carpooling to reduce overall congestion on the network? The specific circumstances will vary for each region; local planners should determine what information will be most beneficial in helping the public prepare and should ensure that information is included in the public education process.


Evacuations are extremely resource-intensive events that require significant personnel, facilities, and equipment to implement successfully. As part of the planning and preparation process, agencies need to determine what resources they will have available as well as what resources they will need to perform their allotted roles during an evacuation. In many cases, there may be a gap between what is needed and what is available, in which case an agency or jurisdiction may need to coordinate with other agencies to establish sharing and mutual aid agreements. This situation will likely be exacerbated during a no-notice incident, when the agencies will have less time to identify, obtain, and position resources.

No-notice evacuations have implications for resource availability. Reliance on locally available or pre-positioned equipment will be essential. No-notice incidents preclude the advance movement of local, State, and Federal assets closer to the incident. Moving at-risk populations who require assistance after a no-notice incident is done in an urgent life safety response mode and will, to a large extent, rely on local support capabilities.

During the planning process, each agency should clarify its roles and responsibilities in an evacuation and then determine what assets it will require to perform those duties. These requirements will vary greatly depending on the type of agency, its mission during an emergency, and the anticipated scope of its activities. In the case of transportation agencies, they are likely to need some combination of the following resources:

Any resource management that can be done in advance of an evacuation will enable agencies to respond more effectively and efficiently when an incident occurs. Each agency should create and maintain an inventory of its assets, so it can better understand its level of preparedness and potential gaps related to its activities during an evacuation. This inventory needs to include information about type of asset, quantity, condition, operational deployment status, location, and resource-ordering information, such as an emergency call number for immediate access. By analyzing the inventory, transportation agencies can make better decisions about which traffic management tactics to employ, recognizing that some tactics may be unrealistic in a no-notice context because the necessary resources would not be immediately available. In other cases, the agency may have the resources, but their location and disruption to the transportation network would make rapid acquisition difficult. In these cases, the agency may consider relocating or pre-positioning its mobile assets in locations that will better support emergency activity.

Where critical resource gaps are identified, agencies should determine the best way to obtain the missing items. This may involve the procurement of additional assets or coordination with other entities to determine where surplus inventories exist and can be shared. In some cases, resources can be expected from State and Federal agencies; local agencies should make this determination while factoring in the expected time delay between a no-notice evacuation and when these assets will be on-site. In many cases, public agencies can make arrangements (or rely on pre-existing contracts) with private vendors and service providers; on-call contractors can fill vital resource gaps during evacuation activities.

Transportation agencies should work with other entities involved in the evacuation response to determine common needs and potential additional resources. It may be that another agency has necessary equipment and material and is better positioned to support the needs of transportation agencies. These arrangements should be made as explicit as possible through the use of memoranda of understanding, mutual aid agreements, and other documents that can serve as guides during an emergency.

Transportation agencies should also look to the private sector to expand their resource base. Private service companies, such as bus operators, ambulance operators, and towing companies, can provide critical additional assets during an evacuation. Many of their capabilities are ones that may not even exist within the public agencies. Evacuation planners should work with these companies to clarify what will be expected of them during an evacuation and to ensure that their services and resources will be available.

7 See p. 23 of Using Highways During Evacuation Operations for Events with Advance Notice from this Primer series for additional information about CONOPS development.
8 See,, and
9 All States are signatories of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which comprises a State-to-State mutual aid agreement for resources and services.
10 See "Evacuating Populations with Special Mobility Needs" from this Primer series for additional information about special needs populations.
11 DOT and the National Response Center – a consortium of Federal Agencies that manages hazardous materials incidents and collects statistics on incidents. These statistics provide communities with information for identifying community risk levels of in-transit accidents.
12 For more information, refer to USDOT's Inventory and Assessment of Transportation Modeling Tools and Their Applicability for Evacuation Modeling report.
13 See the Evacuation Populations with Special Mobility Needs Primer in this Primer series for additional information.

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