Emergency planners need to account for traffic from adjacent surrounding communities. During hurricane evacuations, adjacent states sometimes receive traffic while trying to evacuate their own citizens. The Times-Picayune Online article “Communication Called Storm Evacuation Key,” reported: “Hurricane Ivan was the first test of the plan, developed in 1999, and it produced a rash of complaints from people stuck in traffic for 10 hours or more as severe bottlenecks developed in Hammond, at the intersection of Interstates 55 and 12, and in Baton Rouge, where I-12 merges into I-10. The jams were exacerbated when cars streaming out of the New Orleans area were joined by motorists from Mississippi, Alabama and Florida who also were fleeing west.”
According to the FHWA Transportation Evacuation Planning and Operations Workshops 2004 presentation “Hurricane Evacuation Routes,” to account for out-of-state traffic, the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the City of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, recognized that “all Gulf Coast evacuation routes converge at the City of Hattiesburg. Fiber optic cable [was] installed to allow the City to see camera sites on the coast and prepare for what is coming. The City and the Mississippi Department of Transportation stay connected with information.”
During evacuations, evacuees are fleeing from the incident and may come from multiple directions depending on the incident. Thus, it is important that plans for evacuations extend beyond traditional jurisdictional boundaries and consider an evacuation that may impact multiple communities.
Traffic and people need to be managed during an evacuation.
Blackout 2003 – During the 2003 blackout in New York City and Detroit, Michigan, measures were implemented to manage traffic and people out of the cities. According to Learning from the 2003 Blackout, the following events occurred:New York City:
Gates in Chicago, Illinois – During an evacuation, the need for traffic management can become critical to help direct people and cars fleeing from the evacuated area and to ensure additional people and cars do not enter the evacuated area. The Illinois Department of Transportation is “testing an emergency plan to shut off access to downtown Chicago from local expressways during a terrorist attack or other catastrophe in the Loop, officials said Tuesday (May 17, 2005). The measure is aimed at speeding up the evacuation of the downtown during a disaster by more effectively controlling traffic and panicky drivers. It involves installing up to 80 gates to block access to inbound expressway ramps along five interstate highways that lead into the city, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). The remotely operated gates, a heavy-duty version of the barriers already in place on the Kennedy Expressway's reversible express lanes, would swing closed to prevent vehicles from entering highways to travel to or through the central business district,” as reported in the Chicago Tribune article “Gates Would Cut Access to Loop in Terror Attack.”
In addition, according to the article, “the automatic gates would free up officers for other duties in an emergency. The Chicago region's evacuation plan counts on posting police at highway ramps to stop non-emergency vehicles from entering. ‘With the gates, you wouldn’t need a police cruiser blocking or guarding every ramp,’ said IDOT spokesman Mike Claffey. If the experiment is successful, the barrier system would be expanded to include up to 80 inbound ramps on the Kennedy, Dan Ryan, Eisenhower, Stevenson and Edens Expressways, Claffey said.”
General Traffic Management – Traffic management is needed to handle the flow of traffic and people out of an evacuation zone. According to “Urban Evacuation in Seismic Emergency Conditions,” published in the ITE Journal: “If the evacuation is carried out, even partially, using private cars (if this is found to be possible and compatible with rescue operations) and, particularly if the evacuation is coordinated, it would be worthwhile to implement traffic control measures that make it possible to optimize the working of the system and take on unforeseen situations. In particular: (1) place two officers at each critical intersection so that one can give assistance and information to drivers in need; (2) set signal patterns to provide the most green time for the approach leading away from the area; (3) leave a lane open for use by emergency vehicles and vehicles traveling against the flow of evacuation traffic; (4) suspend the payment of any tolls to maximize the access capacity of the roads concerned; (5) select the evacuation routes that minimize left-turn conflicts; (6) supplement the directions to be imposed with physical barriers; and (7) prevent the movement of long vehicles (trucks and mobile homes)”.
Maryland 9/11 – To manage traffic in and out of the Maryland area during the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, the Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: Cross-Cutting Study reports: “Maryland transportation authorities implemented a number of specific actions statewide in response to the situation. Stranded or abandoned vehicles, especially under bridges, were moved. All video surveillance cameras at high-profile locations, including major bridges and tunnels, were activated and monitored.”
The number of vehicles that are involved in evacuations can prove to be problematic. According to South Carolina’s Response to Hurricane Floyd, “at least 21 percent of households took two cars.” However, this information was in regard to a hurricane evacuation when people may have more time to reason and plan during an evacuation, as opposed to a no-notice evacuation in which the need is to flee quickly.
The Coastal Heritage article “Floyd Follies: What We've Learned” reports: “The number of vehicles on the road during evacuations has grown even faster than the coastal population. During Hurricane Floyd, about 25 percent of households from the Charleston area evacuated in more than one vehicle. ‘One of the reasons that the roads were so clogged was because people were taking more than one car,’ says Susan L. Cutter, a geographer at the University of South Carolina who studies evacuation behavior. Many families also hauled boats or recreational vehicles, adding to congestion. People were evacuating as a household unit, but they were traveling in separate cars and communicating by cell phone, doing it in a caravan.”
According to the Hazard Laboratory Hurricane Floyd Evacuation Study: Preliminary Report, “People were surveyed on the number of cars took during the evacuation. Vast majority took one car; however, 25 percent took two or more cars with them during the evacuation.”
During the literature search, there was very little information on planning found for evacuee returns. However, the publication Riding out Future Quakes: Pre-Earthquake Planning for Post-Earthquake Transportation System Recovery in the San Francisco Bay Region addressed workers returning to their place of employment.
After an evacuation, with transportation facilities coming back on line, problems may arise during workers return to work. Riding out Future Quakes describes the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989: “The San Francisco airport was shut down not due to road failures or freeway closures but for the ability of air traffic controllers to travel to work safely and quickly.”
Agencies can create redundant systems for incidents, but at times, events overcome this level of preparedness with agency staff filling in the breach. According to Saving City Lifelines: Lessons Learned in the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks: “The new Emergency Operations Center at the World Trade Center had been built with redundant systems and independent power supplies. Emergency planners had relied on internal redundancy to store emergency plans and vital records, but those records and plans were now inaccessible. With the evacuation of Building 7, copies of the city’s emergency operations plans had to be retrieved from other agencies and from personal storage, which required some time. Fortunately, the well-trained Office of Emergency Management staff members were able to implement their emergency action plans from memory and combined knowledge.”
During the Great Lakes region blackout of 2003, the Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: August 2003 Northeast Blackout Great Lakes Region reports: “Immediate backup generating capability enabled the Ambassador Bridge to remain fully operational throughout the blackout, as did US Customs at one end of the bridge. A bridge representative estimated that there was about a three- to four-hour backup to get into Canada during the blackout. There were also US-bound backups, but they were much less severe.”
Public transit can be used to support evacuations and has been in the past; however, there are some limitations to the use of public transit.
Limitation of Use of Transit – Transit can be used to provide mobility during an evacuation; however, there could be limitations in its use. According to Emergency Evacuation: Ensuring Safe and Efficient Transportation Out of Endangered Areas, “Most emergency management officials agree that roadway capacity and mass transit assets are not sufficient to evacuate major metropolitan centers like New Orleans, Louisiana, or Miami, Florida, in two or three days. A contributing problem is evacuation over response, or ‘shadow evacuation,’ which occurs when people receive incorrect information or overreact to a threat. For example, during Hurricane Floyd, the Florida Division of Emergency Management estimated that about 35 percent of the approximately 2 million evacuees on state roads did not need to leave their homes.” Public transit does have a role to play, but it depends on the size and nature of the evacuation.
New York City 9/11 – Public transportation played a critical role in the evacuation of citizens from New York during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. According to Saving City Lifelines: Lessons Learned in the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks:“When the city’s transit stations and tunnels were damaged by the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, and its vehicular tunnels and bridges were shut down for security reasons, the huge, complex public transportation system became its lifeline… Emergency operators at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority ordered all available equipment into Grand Central and Penn Stations. Three lines on Metro-North and three lines on the Long Island Rail Road were used for evacuation. Trains operated on a load-and-go basis, departing as soon as they were filled. This procedure had been used before, and interviewed sources said that commuters were familiar with it. … Buses loaded passengers and headed north. No one paid attention to fares or routes. New York Police Department’s Harbor Unit ferried 5,000 people to New Jersey and Staten Island, and the commercial ferry transports and tugboats moved victims and fleeing people to New Jersey.…As the areas of damage were identified, alternate methods of providing transportation were being evaluated. Bus service could be substituted on a limited basis for some train service in Lower Manhattan, and alternate lines still in service could take passengers to nearby stations.”
Public transit moved evacuees out of New York City; it also moved rescue personnel into the city and equipment to the rescue efforts. Saving City Lifelines alsoreports: “The transportation system did not collapse. Civilians were moved out of harm’s way, and emergency personnel were moved in. In addition to its normal duties, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority mobilized its redundant transportation capacity. When the subway service to Lower Manhattan was suspended in the aftermath of the attack, Metropolitan Transportation Authority could enlist New York City Bus and Paratransit to move civilians from Lower Manhattan and security duties. Metropolitan Transportation Authority also had its own armada of specialized heavy equipment and personnel to assist in the rescue effort.”
In addition, Saving City Lifelines reports that within minutes of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “New York City Transit went to emergency operations one minute after the first plane hit; Port Authority Trans-Hudson did so within six minutes. Hundreds of buses were dispatched as a ‘rescue brigade’ to move people uptown from the World Trade Center area.”
The Metro Magazine article “Transit Steps Up Security” reports: “Travel between New Jersey and Manhattan surged 3 percent overnight and travel between Newark and Penn Station grew 45 percent in the days following the attack. Travel on the Hudson-Bergen light rail system shot up between 60 percent and 80 percent, with 6,000 new riders using the system. Several cars from the line had seats removed and were used to transport materials and rescue workers.”
According to the article, ferry service also transported passengers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: “Within five days after September 11, New Jersey Transit, in cooperation with the New Jersey Department of Transportation, designed, permitted, constructed and began service from a new ferry facility at Liberty State Park. [Jeffrey] Warsh says five times as many people are now using the ferry service across the Hudson River.”
Evacuees used buses and ferries to evacuate New York City. Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: New York City: September 11 reports:“People who were trying to cross into Brooklyn were able to use the series of bridges across the East River. Buses were rerouted to pick up passengers on the Brooklyn side of the bridges and take them to destinations in Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island. Those trying to cross into New Jersey from Manhattan had fewer options because the only river crossings in the area across the Hudson River are tunnels. Therefore people had to rely on the numerous ferries pressed into service that day.”
The publication also notes: “According to the Port Authority, 160,000 people evacuated New York City on New York Waterway ferries, and 250,000 to 300,000 left by other water transportation, which included Coast Guard vessels and other privately operated dining boats and even tug boats. A retired fire boat evacuated 150 people on September 11, and came back to pump water to the World Trade Center site. This ad hoc flotilla operation was overseen by the US Coast Guard, with the assistance of the Port Authority and New York City Department of Transportation.”
Saving City Lifelines reports: “As the areas of damage were identified, alternate methods of providing transportation were being evaluated. Bus service could be substituted on a limited basis for some train service in Lower Manhattan, and alternate lines still in service could take passengers to nearby stations.”
According to the article “Transit Steps Up Security,” “Realizing an evacuation of federal agencies in DC was imminent; the Virginia Railway Express halted a northbound train in Manassas and ordered everyone off. The train was then run express to Alexandria, where it was set up to provide shuttle service to Manassas for the rest of the day. Most Virginia Railway Express equipment was trapped north of the 1st Street tunnel under the Capitol. The tunnel was shut down until federal agents could conduct an inspection, says Dave Snyder, Virginia Railway Express’s superintendent of railroad services. Fredericksburg line service was supplemented with buses until the tunnel was reopened.”
Possibilities of Use – Public transit can assist in evacuation situations. According to the Role of Public Transportation Operations in Emergency Management: Research Report: “Possibilities for transit agency involvement in Texas include the following: evacuation of local residents during flooding, fires, hazardous-material spills, bomb threats, or other emergency conditions; transport of emergency workers and volunteers to and from an emergency staging site; supplemental transportation for people and supplies within a city or county during recovery from flooding or other area-wide disasters; use of air-conditioned/heated buses as shelter/respite facilities for emergency workers and victims; especially valuable during a fire or hazardous-material response effort; communications support, if buses are radio-equipped; monitoring of road and weather conditions; determining safe travel routes; and supplemental vehicles for police or other local agency.”
San Francisco Earthquake – Public transportation can provide mobility to an area after a natural disaster by providing transportation into and out of the incident area. The Role of Public Transportation Operations in Emergency Management: Research Report also describes the 1989 San Francisco earthquake: “The 1989 San Francisco earthquake destroyed some of the area’s primary traffic arterials and damaged others to the point of impassability. The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the I-880 freeway, which together comprised the main connection between the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, were closed after sections of these roadways collapsed. Several other freeways and on-ramps within San Francisco also closed, making travel in the city difficult. Within nine hours of the earthquake, the undamaged Bay Area Rapid Transit District subway system was running, providing the only reliable transportation in the city. In the aftermath of the quake, other transit systems in the area joined in the effort to keep residents and repair crews mobile. Buses, subway, commuter rail, and ferries maintained transportation in and around the cities until the roadways were rebuilt and kept a significant portion of the increased ridership even after automobiles were able to return to the freeways.”
February 7, 2006
United States Department of Transportation – Federal Highway Administration
Last Modified: January 15, 2021