Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

1.4 Recommendations

Improvements that can be made to evacuation transportation planning and management methods revolve around additional tools for evacuation management. The tools identified are currently available in most states and are low-cost tools that can provide additional information or services to communities during times of crises.

Tools are identified as either devices or services.

1.4.1 Devices

Handheld Communication Devices

In several of the case studies, a compact handheld communication device was expressed as being potentially useful in the field. It could eliminate the radio and be small enough to allow for both voice and text messaging. It could also be used to communicate to forward command, to others in the field, or up to the command center.

With the use of a handheld device, there is the possibility of introducing Internet access in the field. Internet access allows public information officers the ability to post information, answer media questions, and communicate to the public in a real-time mode. It allows information to flow from the field to the general public in a very short period of time and could allow the general public to react quickly to a possible evacuation order. Internet access provides an additional means of communication to the general public regarding an incident.

Portable Message Signs

Portable message signs were used in a few of the case studies to communicate information to the general public regarding roadway conditions. Portable message signs can prove to be invaluable when local entity resources are required to provide a soft closure of a roadway or provide information to the general public on possible incident areas.

In a public opinion poll, the Utah Department of Transportation found that 70 percent of the public would change their travel plans if they have information on possible incidents. A portable message sign allows for people in the field to quickly communicate information to the public regarding roadways and incidents and allows people to alter their plans before entering the incident zone. Portable message signs allow people to make informed choices while traveling, possibly leading to reduced congestion at an incident zone.

1.4.2 Services

2-1-1 System

A new 2-1-1 system, currently available in 32 states, provides social services information to citizens during times of crises. 2-1-1 is a human resources referral agency that “provides callers with information about and referrals to human services for every day needs and in times of crisis. For example, 2-1-1 can offer access to the following types of services:
  • Basic Human Needs Resource: Food banks, clothing closets, shelters, rent assistance, utility assistance
  • Physical and Mental Health Resources: Health insurance programs, Medicaid and Medicare, maternal health, Children's Health Insurance Program, medical information lines, crisis intervention services, support groups, counseling, drug and alcohol intervention and rehabilitation,” as reported on the Web site.

During the Graniteville incident, the Salvation Army/United Way manned the telephone line and was a “talking human resource directory” for residents of the community. Information ranged from what can we do to help, to what agencies can help, to where can we go to get food. The 2-1-1 system moved phone traffic away from the 911 system and allowed the 911 system to remain open for emergency use.

Safe Community Alert Network (SCAN)

One fire department interviewed for this report mentioned its department signed up for a communication system, SCAN, that provides emergency management information to both the public and emergency responders.

According to SCAN, it is “a public warning system that allows local police departments, fire departments, emergency management services organizations, schools and public safety agencies to broadcast emergency information directly to the computers, mobile phones, pagers and personal digital assistants of their neighborhood and local residents”. Through SCAN, residents can now receive immediate alerts for neighborhood crime and terrorism, sexual predators moving into the area, weather and natural disasters, cyber attacks, fire advisories, health emergencies, as well as neighborhood public safety information.

The SCAN service broadcasts alerts as they become available in the zip code areas for which users have registered. SCAN maintains a 24-hour, 7-day service and support bureau that collects and reviews alert content and broadcasts those alerts to those registered users that have opted-in to the SCAN service.

Registered users receive the SCAN service free of charge. SCAN is free of charge to all public safety agencies of all types, municipal, county, state and federal, as well as schools, colleges and universities, and hospitals.

February 6, 2006
Publication #FHWA-HOP-08-014