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

2 Introduction

Much of what is known about evacuations is based on preparations for incidents, such as hurricanes, when advance warning occurs. With advance warning, evacuations can be planned and managed using procedures and systems that have been developed as a result of extensive and methodical pre-planning. This approach, however, does not adequately support management of incidents when there is no advance warning or when conditions are changing rapidly. Evacuations in response to these types of incidents tend to be monitored, but not well managed.

The FHWA recognized the importance of and need for new tools and processes to help agencies plan for and manage evacuations where there is little or no advance warning. Consequently, the FHWA initiated a project to assess the state of the practice and state of the art in evacuation transportation management.

Objectives identified for this project are to:
  • Assess what is known about transportation management during evacuations in no-notice situations
  • Provide initial guidance that agencies can use in planning for evacuations
  • Provide input to the development of tools for real-time management of evacuations, especially from a transportation perspective.

A decision to evacuate residents, visitors, and businesses in the event of an emergency is normally not a decision for transportation agencies. Emergency management and senior elected officials make that decision. However, transportation and law enforcement personnel are key to a safe and successful evacuation.

In an advance-notice evacuation, there is adequate time to alert the public on the routes to take, to install and place messages on variable message signs, to provide the media with critical transportation information to broadcast, and to post information on agency Web sites, as well as to take necessary precautions such as locking down drawbridges when winds reach a certain threshold.

In a no-notice evacuation, transportation personnel have no time to accomplish those activities. They must rely on whatever evacuation procedures and processes are in place, and then make adjustments as events progress. Transportation staff must rely on information from agencies and individuals providing emergency management, law enforcement, fire, and other critical services, and coordinate with them while maintaining their primary mission of moving people quickly and safely on the transportation system during an evacuation.

There are eight tasks for the FHWA Assessment of State of the Practice and State of the Art in Evacuation Transportation Management. Task 2 is a literature search, and this is the second deliverable for the project.

This report is organized into the following sections:
  1. Executive Summary
  2. Introduction
  3. Methodology for Literature Selection
  4. Findings
  5. Lessons Learned
  6. Best Practices
  7. Potential Tools.

From these reports and numerous other articles and publications, this literature search assessed what is known about transportation management during evacuations of no-notice situations, which is one of the objectives of the project.

The literature search found that there was no definitive article or publication that addressed evacuations during no-notice incidents. However, a review of the literature found several documents that relate to evacuations regarding the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC; the blackouts of New York City and Detroit, Michigan; the firestorms of British Columbia, Canada; the southern California wildfires; the Northridge earthquake; the I-95 tanker explosion; and the Howard Street rail tunnel fire in Baltimore, Maryland. The focus of these reports was not necessarily on evacuations, but information was included on these incidents and others incidents because it is applicable to no-notice events.

Several articles and publications prepared after incidents proved invaluable for this literature search including the Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations Studies, the San Bernardino County Fire Chiefs’ Association: Lessons Learned Report: Fire Storm 2003: “Old Fire, and the Southern California Firestorm 2003: Report for the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center. Although the two wildfire reports were not written from a transportation perspective, information from them was applicable since the incidents involved no-notice evacuations.

From these reports and numerous other articles and publications, this literature search attempted to assess what is known about transportation management during evacuations in no-notice situations. The search addressed issues regarding evacuations, lessons learned, best practices, and tools.

The next step in this project is the identification of no-notice evacuation case studies that are to be researched from a transportation point of view. Three possible candidates are the South Carolina chlorine gas incident in Graniteville; the El Dorado, Arkansas, hazardous-material fire; and the southern California wildfires. The Graniteville and El Dorado incidents both involved no-notice evacuations and are recent events with lessons learned still fresh in the mind of participants. In addition, the El Dorado incident involved the evacuation of a jail and two nursing homes. The southern California wildfires have been studied but not from a transportation aspect.

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