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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

7.12 Special Needs Evacuations

The following information focuses on special needs evacuations from the four case studies. However, before providing specific information, the focus of the special needs evacuations is identified below for all incidents.

7.12.1 Focus

Much like the focus of the emergency management officials, the focus of all of the special needs evacuations was initially to evacuate residents, staff, students, etc. from the incident zone.

However, during the El Dorado incident other focuses arose such as:
  • Sheltering in place or evacuating – Oakridge Nursing Home.
  • Getting nursing home residents out of the home and gathering up bedding, linen, other items, and food – Hillsboro Manor Nursing Home.
  • Keeping the communication lines open since people were calling in seeking information, typing up the lines – Oakridge Nursing Home.

During the Big Bear Valley incident, the Bear Valley Community Hospital wanted to find one facility that could accommodate all of the residents.

After the initial evacuation, the focus changed depending on the type of institution that was evacuated.

During the evacuation, the focus shifted to the following:
  • Getting residents ready for the evacuation, dealing with anxious staff whose homes were under an evacuation order, and dealing with family members who were contacting the hospital for information and the evacuation location – Bear Valley Community Hospital.
  • Securing the safety of the residents and the transportation of wheelchair-bound residents – Oakridge Nursing Home.

  • Dealing with the slowness of the ambulance used to transport the wheelchair-bound residents – Oakridge Nursing Home.
  • Trying not to upset the residents, contacting family members and not fielding calls from outside the facility – Hillsboro Manor Nursing Home.
  • Having an orderly process for parents to be reunited with their children – Big Bear Middle School.
After the evacuation, the focus shifted to:
  • Contacting the Red Cross for the cots, setting up the cots, feeding and calming the residents – Hillsboro Manor Nursing Home.
  • Getting staff to evacuate themselves – Big Bear Middle School.
  • Making sure the residents received the care they were accustomed to and keeping the residents calm due to unfamiliar surroundings and people – Bear Valley Community Hospital.
  • Making residents comfortable and taking care of them – Oakridge Nursing Home.

7.12.2 El Dorado, Arkansas – El Dorado County Jail Facility

The sheriff found out about the incident by either hearing or seeing the explosion and fire. The sheriff directly went to the Teris facility for information on the incident and was told of the recommendation to evacuate the jail facility. Upon receipt of this information, the sheriff contacted the LEPC, and it was determined that the county jail needed to be evacuated and his staff was needed for that purpose.

Transportation Impacts

When the sheriff decided to evacuate the jail facility, a choice of which roadways to use was made. It was determined that the convoy would proceed down state roadways rather than county roadways due to several factors: (a) the state roadways were felt to be more secure; (b) there were wide shoulders, and in case of an accident, the buses could be moved off to the shoulder or, in the case of an automobile accident, the automobile could be moved off to the shoulder not impeding the movement of the buses; and (c) there are more lanes allowing for faster speeds and movement past an accident.

Lessons Learned

There were some lessons learned regarding “little bitty things such as how to coordinate prisoners and separate them and secure them.”

After the evacuation of the jail facility, the sheriff looked into the feasibility of providing a separate air supply for the emergency dispatch center, but it was determined to be too costly. However, approximately four to five self-breathing apparatuses were purchased and are on site at the county jail in case of need.

Why a Success

The sheriff felt that there has always been the threat of an evacuation, and he had “years to think about it.” He communicated the plan with two others on his staff, the chief deputy and the jail administrator, so they knew what to do in case the sheriff was incapacitated. To ensure someone is available who knows the plan, the sheriff requires that all three persons are not off duty at the same time. There is at least one of them on site at all times. The sheriff realizes that the evacuation plan should be written down and taught to others of his staff, but this may not happen in the foreseeable future due to a lack of resources.

7.12.3 El Dorado, Arkansas – Hillsboro Manor Nursing Home

The director of nursing received a page from the 911 system while attending church and was told to be prepared to evacuate and to prepare for a return call to evacuate. After this initial contact, Hillsboro started to evacuate the residents before the order to evacuate was received. Shortly thereafter, a call was received to evacuate the nursing home.


The police department and volunteers from the community acquired buses for the transportation of residents to their designated public shelter. There were approximately 96 patients and more than 50 staff that needed to be evacuated. Most of the residents could be moved by either school or church bus (regular and wheelchair accessible), but residents who could not walk were transported by ambulances to the hospital or other nursing homes.

One man from a church brought a truck that was used to move wheelchairs, bedding, linen, the medicine carts, and food prepared for lunch.

The police department provided an escort to the public shelter.

Lessons Learned

There are several lessons learned:
  • Be prepared and delegate responsibility to others to help during an emergency.
  • Give people a designated assignment.
  • Have drills and know what everyone’s role is.
  • “It was a good experience, something deadly could have happened. It makes you understand and appreciate who you rely on. Take care of your own.”
  • Request wheelchair lift-equipped buses. This type of equipment facilitates the entry and exit of the residents onto and off the buses.
  • Through firsthand experience, Hillsboro knows its own abilities and which churches have what form of transportation and who to contact first.

Why a Success

There are numerous reasons why the evacuation was a success:
  • Community volunteers assisted in the evacuation, such as by providing a truck to transport items or church buses to transport residents and staff.
  • There was easy access to transportation.
  • Hillsboro had written procedures on evacuations.
  • The delegation and assignment of activities to staff kept the staff focused on the evacuation and not on what-if scenarios. The nursing home had practiced, at least annually, an emergency drill for evacuation of the nursing home 
  • There was the experience of previous partial evacuations. 

7.12.4 El Dorado, Arkansas – Oakridge Nursing Home

At 9:30 on Sunday morning, the assistant administrator was contacted at home and informed by the 911 system that the Teris plant was exploding. Within 10 minutes of the phone call, the assistant administrator arrived at the nursing home. At this point, it was decided to start shelter-in-place procedures.

After this initial activity, the assistant administrator was waiting for the word to evacuate Oakridge. Approximately 1 hour after the initial call, someone from a church arrived to help Oakridge evacuate. This individual informed the assistant administrator that “everyone was evacuating,” and the evacuation started at this point.


There was no official call from the local emergency management officials for an evacuation, nor were there Red Cross officials assisting in the evacuation. The assistant administrator would have liked to have emergency officials helping during the evacuation. “If not for the churches and family members, we would have had a problem.”

The assistant administrator would have liked to know who they could call on and who would call on them in case of a next time. He did not like volunteers informing him of the need to evacuate. There needs to be “better communication from an official person.” He called after the incident and received an apology.


A total of six church and school buses were used to evacuate the residents. One of the school buses was wheelchair-lift equipped, and Oakridge could have used more of those types of buses.

Lessons Learned

There were several lessons learned:
  • Examine the space of a facility to be used as a shelter and ensure it meets your needs for space, accommodations, restrooms, and a kitchen.
  • Not everything needed for an overnight evacuation was taken initially, such as diapers, supplies, and feeding pumps. Plan for the need to gather up supplies during an evacuation and have assigned staff to gather up the supplies.

Why a Success

Oakridge staff have received training on evacuation and reviewed the shelter in place video. That information combined with the knowledge of how to handle other types of emergencies led to a successful self-evacuation.

7.12.5 Graniteville, South Carolina

Residents who evacuated left behind their pets and later became concerned when they realized the extent of the incident. The Aiken County Animal Control Department called on other animal control departments to assist in the retrieval of pets from the evacuation zone. Evacuees contacted animal control with pet information and keys to their homes. Once the pets were retrieved, evacuees had to contact animal control and set up an appointment to pick up their pet. As a result, more than 287 pets were reunited with their owners.

7.12.6 Big Bear Valley, California – Bear Valley Community Hospital

Bear Valley Community Hospital long-term residents were evacuated. Once the decision was made to evacuate the community, the hospital instituted an internal disaster plan. When the hospital was informed of a voluntary evacuation, the director of nursing provided guidance to staff and delegated responsibilities to perform certain tasks. Some staff were directed to prepare the residents for an evacuation, pack up residents’ medical records, pack up 3 days of food, pick up the medications, call in additional clinical staff, and contact families. By delegating tasks, the staff were focused on the evacuation of patients and not necessarily the fire situation.

By the time the ambulances arrived at the hospital, residents and staff were ready to leave. To facilitate information regarding a resident, the residents’ individual medical file went along with the patients, in addition to their medication.

Lessons Learned

There were several lessons learned:
  • Create a disaster book with emergency contact information and local nursing homes phone numbers.
  • Ensure staff have cell phones for communication purposes.
  • Have a written evacuation plan that is shared with the staff.
  • Maintain a current list of emergency contacts for residents, patients, and staff. Staff information should include home number, cell phone number, and emergency contact numbers.
  • Ensure there is a place to send residents/patients during an emergency. There are now verbal agreements with other facilities for the evacuation of patients/residents.
  • Pack supplies for longer than 3 days. Residents were away from the hospital for 5 days.

Why a Success

The evacuation of the hospital was coordinated with the Bear City Fire Department and the City of Big Bear Lake Emergency Management Services through the Emergency Operations Center. A week before the evacuation occurred, the fire chief contacted the hospital and conducted pre-disaster planning such as, if the need for an evacuation was clear, what type of transportation was needed and from where would the transportation come.

The hospital also participates in tabletop exercises and understands its roles and responsibilities. Preplanning for the evacuation assisted in the successful evacuation of the hospital.

7.12.7 Big Bear Valley, California – Bear Valley Schools

Schools in Big Bear Valley were evacuated. The day before the evacuation of the valley, the superintendent of the schools was informed of the potential for an evacuation and passed this information along to staff of the school district. Students of the schools were sent home. District staff were told that the local emergency management officials would not try to evacuate when school was in session. However, the next day after students were at school, the winds picked up and a mandatory evacuation of the valley occurred.

Lessons Learned

There were several lessons learned:
  • If family is not available, friends can be contacted to pick up a student. Some of the family members work off the mountain and had difficulty in returning to the valley.
  • Almost every student had a cell phone. The school policy is not to allow students to use cell phones while in school. During this incident, when the students were in the gymnasium, they called their parents to inform them of the school closing.  After this incident, the high school has considered relaxing this school policy.
  • Use a workaround for a communication issue. The landlines were lost, there was no radio repeater, and the handheld radios worked for approximately a mile. Communication back to the district office was problematic, so a workaround was to position school buses at a jump point where a bus could be contacted, who in turn contacted another bus and so forth until the district office was contacted.

Why a Success

The evacuation of schools in Big Bear Valley was a success due to several factors.
  • An orderly process was developed to allow parents to pick up their children in a calm setting.
  • There was school training for emergency drills.
  • The Big Bear Valley incident commander decided to hold off announcement of an evacuation until the school children arrived at school, thus allowing for an orderly evacuation of students.

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