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

1.1 Key Issues and Findings

The Booz Allen team identified the following key issues for developing and implementing transportation evacuation plans:
  • Nature of the hazard
  • Transportation objectives
  • Infrastructure
  • Coordination
  • Communication
  • Special needs
  • Changing conditions
  • Impacts to transportation systems.

Table 1-1 summarizes the finding for each key issue.

Table 1-1. Key Findings

Key Issue


Nature of the Hazard

  • No-notice evacuations are chaotic and difficult to manage.
  • Enforcement of evacuation orders is problematic, and it can be difficult to get people to evacuate.
  • Evacuation decisions are generally a local affair.
  • There are impacts from and to the transportation system.
  • Communities are aware of hazards that can lead to evacuations, but some events are too extraordinary to plan for.
  • Evacuations can occur in all conditions, including at night.
  • The responses to an advanced evacuation and a no-notice evacuation are similar.

Transportation Objectives

  • Critical facilities are needed after an incident to bring in supplies.
  • Evacuation routes and detours have been identified and/or predetermined for emergency situations. However, at times, citizens may not be aware of the routes and their final destination and which areas to avoid.
  • The distance of an evacuation depends on the reason for the evacuation.
  • Evacuations lead to activation of emergency plans. However, transportation is not always integrated into the plans.
  • Emergency planners need to account for traffic from adjacent surrounding communities.
  • Traffic and people need to be managed during an evacuation.
  • The number of vehicles that are involved in evacuations can be problematic. Hurricane evacuations may have 21 to 25 percent of the evacuees taking more than one vehicle.
  • Agencies can create redundant systems for incidents, but at times, events overcome this level of preparedness with agency staff filling in the breach.
  • Public transit can be used to provide mobility during an evacuation, but there could be limitations to the use of public transit.


  • The loss of infrastructure, including power, and equipment can impact evacuations.
  • Critical evacuation routes are monitored by government entities during an evacuation.
  • Contra-flow operations have been found with advance-notice evacuations and used during no-notice evacuations, but do present issues such as inadequate time to set up the operation.
  • Resources can be staged to assist during an evacuation incident.
  • Intelligent transportation system (ITS) equipment has been used to assist in evacuations. However, the equipment does need power and, after a blackout event, to be reset.
  • Highway construction zones can impact evacuations.


  • One can plan for contingencies but not for all events.
  • Evacuation coordination and cooperation is important since evacuations may cross state lines or into other jurisdictions. Coordination also includes external entities, multiple groups, non-traditional emergency management personnel, and public transit. Coordination also includes having a unified voice providing information.
  • An incident command system is identified in the literature as an item that should be in place and used during an evacuation incident.
  • Mutual-aid and other agreements (such as formal procedures for coordination of multi-county evacuations) have been cited in the literature as being important.
  • The need for training and training exercises is emphasized in the literature, along with the need to include public transit in the training exercises.
  • An incident command system can be operated within an area command when an incident is very complex or multiple incidents are located in close proximity.
  • Specialty teams (tiger teams) have been deployed that can assist in an evacuation situation.


  • There are multiple ways to communicate from the traditional methods of loud speakers and the canvassing of streets to high-technology cell phones with television screens that receive evacuation orders and information.
  • After the 9/11 terrorist attack, the use of transit call centers and Web sites increased by passengers seeking out transit information.
  • During evacuations, communication between all parties (evacuees, the general public, entity staff, etc.) can be difficult and problematic. People and entities have been creative in overcoming these communication problems, such as the use of personal cell phones to neighbors alerting them of the need to evacuate.
  • Some companies have emergency communication plans.
  • Information communicated during an evacuation needs to be accurate and consistent. One way to handle this is the use of a joint information center that manages the information in order to deliver a consistent message. In addition, the media will eventually become involved in the evacuation situation and can be a valuable ally.
  • Information should be shared among various entities.
  • Some evacuations have advance warning, while others do not, thus impacting the type of communication issued.

Special Needs

  • There was very little information in the literature regarding the evacuation of bicyclists or truckers.
  • Special needs evacuees such as the elderly, medical patients, disabled, and people without transport require special assistance during evacuations and at shelters and at times these evacuees may be overlooked.
  • Jail facilities and nursing homes are special needs facilities that have been evacuated.
  • People who are evacuated that have pets or animals that need to be left behind in the rush of an evacuation worry about their pets/animals.
  • The events of 9/11 in both New York City and Washington, DC, involved the evacuation of pedestrians. To move the evacuees out of the cities, public transit played a significant role. People also walked home.

Changing Conditions

  • Priorities change during evacuations from safety and protection of evacuees to providing mobility for evacuees.
  • During the 2003 blackouts, responsibilities for items such as traffic management shifted spontaneously from the police to citizens.

Impacts to Transportation Systems

  • During the blackouts in the Great Lakes Region, manufacturing plants ceased operations and thus impacted the transportation network.
  • Reentry of evacuees requires coordination to ensure their return is successful and manageable.
  • During the New York City blackout, transit managers’ decisions impacted the evacuation of evacuees.
  • Transportation systems can become overwhelmed with evacuees.


However, the purpose of this literature search was not to assess transportation evacuation plans but to find information on these issues, key findings, and lessons learned from the responses to evacuation incidents.

February 7, 2006
Publication #FHWA–HOP-08-015