Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies Getting People to Evacuate

There are numerous studies on the behavior of people in a hurricane evacuation, and these studies have not been included in this literature search. However, the psychology of evacuation needs to be considered during evacuations and particularly during no-notice evacuations due to the short time available to execute the evacuation. As reported in the Northwest Florida Hurricane Evacuation Study Technical Data Report, “empirical evidence in evacuation after evacuation demonstrates emphatically that the very same people will leave promptly or slowly depending upon the circumstances of the particular threat. When people believe they have the luxury of taking their time to depart, most tend to do so. However, when the urgency of immediate response is communicated to people, they respond very swiftly, even leaving between midnight and daybreak. One other factor is also clear: very few evacuees (less than 20%) leave before officials issue an evacuation notice.” Notifying people as soon as possible that they need to evacuate is critical. Impacts of and to Transportation Systems

Evacuations due to disaster may be impacted by the transportation system. As reported in Disaster Response and Evacuation User Service: An Addendum to the ITS Program Plan, “a major disaster may severely damage the transportation system in the impacted area. Local transportation activities will be hampered by damaged facilities, equipment, and infrastructure, as well as disrupted communications and electrical services. At the same time, the disaster will create significant demands on the transportation system in and around the disaster area as it is used to transport: outbound evacuees, inbound mutual aid operational resources, inbound state and federal operational resources, outbound returning mutual aid operational resources, inbound support shipments, inbound returning evacuees and outbound state and federal resources.” Therefore, additional hazards may occur in responding to the initial event due to the movement in and out of an evacuated area. Awareness of the Hazard

Communities located next to rail lines or natural hazards are generally aware of the hazards and the potential for an evacuation. However, some events are so extraordinary and occur so infrequently that communities and people are taken by surprise.

Graniteville, South Carolina – Evacuation incidents occur infrequently, but emergency officials plan for their likely occurrence. For example, on January 6, 2005, a freight train had a derailment that released clouds of chlorine gas, killed nine people, and forced the evacuation of 5,400 citizens of Graniteville. The initial decision was to shelter in place, but due to the nature of the incident (toxicity of chlorine gas), emergency management officials decided to evacuate.

The Contra Costa Times article “Chlorine Spill Forces Evacuations” reported: “A lethal plume of chlorine leaking from a shattered rail tanker car kept 5,000 residents of this mill town away from their homes and forced officials to bring in repair crews a day after a pre-dawn train wreck and chemical spill killed eight people and sent scores to hospitals for treatment. A rapid response by local emergency officials in the hours after two trains collided on Thursday morning helped evacuate hundreds of residents from a ‘hot zone’ of contamination around the still-volatile wreck. Officials continued to cordon off a mile radius around the now-deserted site, unable to staunch the flow of chlorine from one crushed rail car and worried about the possibility of leaks from two other cars loaded with toxic chemicals.”

The San Francisco Chronicle article “Rail Spill Creates Ghost Town: Survivors Tell How Chlorine Gas Killed Their Coworkers at South Carolina Plant” reported “The disaster has turned Graniteville into a ghost town; its inhabitants replaced by investigators in hazardous materials suits.”

The New York Times article “8 Are Killed in Train Crash and Gas Leak” reported “Governor Mark Sanford declared a state of emergency for Aiken County, South Carolina, and officials told residents within a mile of the crash site to leave. Area residents went to two local schools, where paramedics evaluated them and sent many to hospitals, where more than 50 were admitted.”

The Contra Costa Times article “Chlorine Spill Forces Evacuations” also reported “Local emergency officials said Friday that they were able to move quickly to the collision scene, aided by practice drills and heightened planning since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.” Therefore, plans and practice can lead to successful evacuations.

After the evacuation, an agreement was reached with the rail carrier, Norfolk Southern, “to reimburse more than 1,000 victims who suffered minor injuries, property damage, expenses and lost wages from a deadly chemical spill in January 2005,” as reported in the Virginian-Pilot article “Norfolk-based Railroad to Pay Damages for Chemical Spill.”

Great Lakes Region – On the other hand, there are events that are so extraordinary and occur so infrequently that people are taken by surprise when they occur. The blackout in the Great Lakes region is an example of that type of event. Massive blackouts have occurred on the East Coast before, but the blackout of August 2003 impacted the Great Lakes region in addition to the East Coast. As reported in Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: August 2003 Northeast Blackout Great Lakes Region, “blackouts should be considered as part of standard emergency preparations and planning for all types of public infrastructure, including transportation.” Lessons learned from the blackout event will be addressed later in this report.

La Conchita, California – Evacuations can occur at any time and any place with little to no warning. However, there are histories of certain events occurring in the same area. For example, the southern California city of La Conchita recently endured (January 10, 2005) a mudslide, brought on by 5 days of heavy rain. The mudslide killed 10 people and forced the evacuation of approximately one-half of the community or 150 people.

The San Francisco Chronicle article “3 Killed, 15 Homes Crushed by Tons of Rain-Soaked Mud: Death Toll in Southern California Storm Rises to 11 After Landslide” reported “Worried emergency workers had already started evacuating about 150 residents of La Conchita to shelters in Ventura when the steep hillside that looms over the town on Highway 101 broke loose about 2 p.m., turning into a 20-foot wall of mud.”

The San Francisco Chronicle article “Slide Area Notoriously Unstable Same Hillside Failed in ‘95: Locals Debated Danger” reported mudslides in the same area in 1995, and as a result, “the county had promised to terrace the hillside as a way to stabilize it, but never followed through. County officials and residents knew about the danger but debated how serious it was. Signs warning of a potential landslide have been posted in the community for years. County officials had begun installing motion detectors on the slope and built a $400,000 retaining wall at the base of the hill between the slide zone and the community. But the detectors did not warn of the hillside’s collapse and the retaining wall—designed to control minor slides or catch loose debris—only redirected some of the mud’s flow into an adjacent part of town.”

So one can conclude that the residents of La Conchita had an idea that the community was subject to mudslides, but they were still surprised when the event occurred in January 2005.

In addition, the geology of the ground at La Conchita impacted the rescue efforts. The “3 Killed, 15 Homes Crushed by Tons of Rain-Soaked Mud: Death Toll in Southern California Storm Rises to 11 After Landslide” article explained that search efforts “were suspended late in the evening when geologists determined that the remaining hillside was extremely unstable.” Thus, the nature of the hazard can impact evacuation and rescue efforts. Nighttime Evacuations

Evacuations occur in all types of weather conditions and sometimes at night. Fire Lessons Learned in California describes the Cedar Fire blazes in southern California: “The evacuation was frightening for residents because it took place at night. The fire started on Oct. 25 at dusk. It burned 273,000 acres, demolished 2,820 structures, and killed 14 people. At its peak speed, the Cedar Fire burned 12,000 acres per hour, [Thomas] Cova [a researcher from the University of Utah] said, or two to three acres per second. ‘That’s breakneck speed for a fire in the middle of the night.’”

The report also noted, “Evacuations are typically made when a wildfire draws between two and eight miles from homes, said Cova. But some evacuations during the 2003 wildfires were as far as 10 miles out when they were playing it cautious.”

Southern California Firestorm 2003: Report for the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center stated: “Experienced firefighters reported the importance of having confidence that their tactical decisions—based on training, planning, doctrine, and experience—were the right ones. In the aftermath, after revisiting affected areas, these same firefighters reported that they could see their decisions were the best they could make under the circumstances.” Response to Hazard

Hazards that force evacuations vary from a no-notice situation, such as a tsunami, to an advanced-notice situation, such as a hurricane, providing some level of warning to people. However, as reported in Protecting Surface Transportation Systems and Patrons From Terrorist Activities: Case Studies of Best Security Practices and a Chronology of Attacks, “to an overwhelming degree the type of emergency response to the scene of a terrorist attack will be the same as that required for emergencies and disasters from natural or accidental causes. Derailments and explosions occur accidentally as well as intentionally, as do hazardous material incidents, and every agency should have in place emergency response procedures that can be adapted to such incidents.”

The I-95 Corridor Coalition’s Mary Grace Parker states in Learning from the 2003 Blackout, “at the end of the day, whether it’s a hurricane, a blackout, or a terrorist event, the way you manage traffic incidents is essentially the same. There’s no incident that occurs on any scale that doesn’t have traffic impacts. And most important is having the institutional and personal relations in place, nurturing and sustaining them.”

So while hazards exist that require evacuations, tools, relationships, and communication protocols can be developed and in place to respond to evacuation events regardless of the nature of the hazard.

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