Evacuations can be disruptive to existing transportation systems. As reported in Disaster Response and Evacuation User Service: An Addendum to the ITS Program Plan, “over 3 million people were evacuated as a result of Hurricane Floyd, which skirted the east coast of Florida and made landfall in South Carolina. This evacuation resulted in overloading of evacuation routes, causing extreme delays and exposing evacuees to personal risk.”
This section will address literature found on transportation objectives. This includes areas to avoid, critical facilities, destinations (potential routes), distance for evacuation, emergency plans, evacuee locations, managing of traffic and people, number of vehicles involved in an evacuation, planning for evacuee return, redundant systems, staging of resources, and use of transit to evacuate.Some of the findings on this issue include:
During any evacuation, but especially during a no-notice evacuation, people fleeing the area may not be cognizant of areas that need to be avoided. People with cell phones, subscription service, or access to the 511 service (discussed later in the tools section) may be able to identify areas to avoid, but others would have limited information on these areas.
However, variable or dynamic message signs, highway advisory radio, and the media can provide information and guidance to drivers to avoid upcoming areas on roadways. As reported in Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: Cross-Cutting Study, during the 9/11 terrorist attack on Washington, DC, “traffic into the city was detoured, as Washington declared a state of emergency. Ramps were closed from interstates, and variable message signs alerted motorists to avoid the area. Retiming traffic signals for very heavy peak-period outbound traffic facilitated traffic flow out of Washington. High occupancy vehicle restrictions were removed, and overhead sign changes, travelers’ advisory radio, and the media alerted motorists to changes in traffic patterns.”
After a natural disaster such as an earthquake, supplies are needed for the area impacted by the earthquake and routes into the area can become critical. As reported in Riding out Future Quakes: Pre-Earthquake Planning for Post-Earthquake Transportation System Recovery in the San Francisco Bay Region, “since the Northridge earthquake, the California Department of Transportation has been working on adopting a system of lifeline routes that would facilitate movement between major staging areas and impacted areas following major earthquakes. The Stockton and Tracy areas (Central Valley) may serve as such a staging area for getting emergency supplies into an impacted San Francisco Bay region. In that case, I-580 becomes a critical lifeline route.”
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.
Detours Associated with Routes – Many states have predetermined detours for emergency situations. As reported in I-95 Shutdown: Coordinating Transportation and Emergency Response, “Maryland State Highway Administration and local police lost no time setting up the predetermined detours for affected travelers (tanker explosion—Baltimore, Maryland). At 2:57 p.m., staff in the Maryland State Highway Administration traffic operations centers followed established procedures to alert local police and redirected motorists traveling northbound on I-95 to Maryland 100, and moved southbound traffic to I-195.”
Evacuation Routes for the Chemical Stockpile Program – Transportation evacuation routes and host counties have been identified for the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) at Jacksonville State University. According to their Web site, “certain emergencies may require mandatory action such as evacuation. Calhoun County has been divided into zones in order to coordinate evacuations. Primary and alternate evacuation routes and reception/mass care hosts counties have been established, by zone, for major emergencies. It is recommended that citizens know their evacuation routes (primary and alternate) and reception/mass care host counties.”
Evacuation Routes for the Nuclear Industry – Evacuation routes are identified for the nuclear industry. To assist in identification of the routes, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Web site reports: “evacuation time estimates are developed for each nuclear power plant site. These estimates assist government authorities to determine the best exit routes and traffic control points. The time estimates are used to identify potential traffic congestion and to develop plans for traffic management and use of traffic control personnel during an evacuation.”
For example, the Emergency Management Agency for the Borough of Monaca, Pennsylvania, has developed evacuation routes by ward in the event of an incident at the Beaver Valley Power Station (nuclear facility). The Borough informs the public on its Web site: “in no way should you begin to evacuate your home or business unless you are specifically directed to do so by an official source as described above. If an evacuation is ordered, you should take local Monaca routes as described below. Using any other route may slow your egress from Monaca and may disrupt the important flow of emergency vehicles.” Pre-identified evacuation routes have been communicated to the public in case of the need to evacuate.
Maps of Evacuation Routes – Evacuation routes may be identified for the public, but, at times, citizens may not know where the evacuation routes are located. South Carolina’s Response to Hurricane Floyd reported, “About 63% of respondents carried road maps, yet only 51% used them to determine their route.”
Wildfires Evacuation Routes – Fire districts, such as the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District of California, inform citizens of the need for evacuation routes. The Wildfire Preparedness and Evacuation brochure stated: “During a wildfire, roads become congested with vehicles, making evacuation a slow process. Long before evacuation seems likely, gather your family, your pets and your belongings and leave the area. When evacuating, use a route that takes you in the opposite direction of the fire. Try to avoid roads encased in dense vegetation and lined with trees; if the fire sweeps through this area while you are in your car, you may become trapped.”
How far one evacuates depends on the reason for the evacuation. For the State of South Carolina, prior to Hurricane Floyd, officials evacuated up to 50 miles during hurricanes. But after Hurricane Floyd, the state now evacuates the entire coast line and up to 100 miles inland, as reported in South Carolina Hurricane Evacuation Program 2003.
However, citizens will determine how far they need to evacuate. South Carolina’s Response to Hurricane Floyd reported, “the majority of South Carolinians traveled out of state to destinations farther than necessary for safe sheltering.”
During situations, evacuations may be up to a few miles out of the danger zone. During the derailment in Graniteville, South Carolina, that involved the release of chlorine gas, the evacuation occurred within a distance of 1 mile from the scene of the event, as reported in the New York Times article “Fateful Decisions as Deadly Gas from Train Wafted Toward Mill.”
When a hazard occurs and an evacuation is required, government agencies and citizens activate their emergency plans. However, transportation is not always integrated into the plans.
Activation of Emergency Plans – Evacuations lead to activation of emergency plans. During the terrorist attack in New York City on September 11, 2001, Saving City Lifelines: Lessons Learned In the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks reports:“New York City Transit dispatchers, hearing of the plane crash, activated their emergency plans. One train was approaching Cortland Street when the driver received word of the crash from the operations center. He moved rapidly through the station and pulled the train and its passengers to safety. Other trains were rerouted or held back from the damaged area. According to New York City Transit’s longstanding plan for emergencies, all trains were to go to the closest station and evacuate passengers and crew, pending fire department response and New York City Transit evaluation.”
Emergency plans and experience pay off for officials during incidents. For example, I-95 Shutdown: Coordinating Transportation and Emergency Response describes the I-95 tanker explosion in Baltimore, Maryland: “Within 20 minutes of the incident, Maryland State Highway Administration personnel and police units implemented traffic detours and disseminated information to motorists about alternate routes.” In addition, “according to Major [Bill] McMahon [of the Howard County Police], the attacks on September 11, 2001, and local weather events like snowstorms and hurricanes have helped law enforcement and emergency response professionals work together in many cross-jurisdictional situations. ‘In fact,’ says McMahon, ‘Howard County has plans for what we call an ‘in-vacuation' that recognizes the traffic effects of what would happen if there was an emergency in Washington, DC, to our immediate south.’ He attributes part of Howard County's success on January 13, 2004 [tanker explosion] to these preparations for possible terrorist activities.”
Learning from the 2003 Blackout reports that, during the New York City blackout of 2003, “because of lessons learned from past emergencies, the agencies responsible for the city's transportation system had response plans in place. Previous major blackouts, preparations for the year 2000 (Y2K), and the events of September 11, 2001, had prepared the region to deal with significant disruptions to its transportation network. But the plans did not anticipate the scope and duration of the August 2003 blackout.”
Earthquakes and Transportation – Transportation can be part of an emergency plan, and has been incorporated into earthquake preparedness in the San Francisco Bay area. The ITE Journal article “Improving Transportation Response and Security Following a Disaster” reports the San Francisco Bay Area developed a Trans Response Plan in the late 1990s. The Trans Response Plan has assigned the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) several roles. (1) Regional Clearinghouse—“collects and analyzes each individual transit agency's damage and operating status to develop an ongoing regional transportation status report for all nine counties throughout the course of the emergency. The regional transportation status report is to be distributed to inform transit agencies, the state Office of Emergency Services (OES), the media and the public of new events and as situations change.” (2) Interagency Coordinator—“by compiling a centralized, comprehensive damage picture, the OES and the Federal Emergency Management Agency can be coordinated with the region's priorities.” The MTC also is notified of where coordination is needed and gets the involved agencies to address the need.” (3) Developer of Long-Term Alternatives—focus on developing long-term transportation alternatives “including the creation of new transit service and roadway options to substitute for inoperable highways and transit services and the coordination of new and surviving services to facilitate movement of emergency resources throughout the Bay area.”
Transportation Identified – Emergency plans exist for various entities, but, as reported in Transportation for Emergency Response and Recovery, “few have transportation fully integrated into the plan. In addition, (a) under 50% mention media coordination, traveler information and asset protection, (b) 15% mention coordination with Emergency Operations Center and transit, (c) less than 50% have no evacuation routes specified, (d) transportation contacts are included in 2/3 state plans, 1/3 municipal plans, and (e) ITS applications are not discussed.”
February 7, 2006
United States Department of Transportation – Federal Highway Administration
Last Modified: January 14, 2021