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

Because evacuations may cross state lines or into other jurisdictions, coordination is important. Evacuation coordination is needed with external entities, multiple groups, non-traditional emergency management personnel, and public transit. Coordination also includes having a unified voice providing information.

Crossing State Lines – Evacuations sometimes involve the crossing of state lines, and coordination is needed between the states to ensure the safe evacuation of citizens. According to Emergency Evacuation: Ensuring Safe and Efficient Transportation out of Endangered Areas: “Crossing jurisdictional and state boundaries can complicate the planning of contra flow operations. Until recently, hurricane evacuation planning was seldom region wide, primarily because evacuation orders follow a more localized, county-by-county, procedure. Florida Department of Transportation found that a lack of coordination between counties produced congestion when evacuations intersected and traffic from one county entered the already-crowded evacuation routes of another. With increased coastal populations, region wide evacuations must be prepared to move substantially larger numbers of people. States like Florida are addressing these problems with statewide evacuation plans.”

In addition, Emergency Evacuation reported: “Interstate evacuation coordination is also critical, as shown in the state-to-state overlap of evacuation traffic during Hurricane Floyd. During the Hurricane Floyd evacuation, traffic from Florida and Georgia contributed to congestion on evacuation routes in South Carolina. South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida Departments of Transportation are working together to correct the deficiencies. Interstate regional plans now incorporate interstate contra flow and the use of secondary highways to keep local traffic from interstate routes whenever possible.”

According to A Study of the Impact of Nine Transportation Management Projects on Hurricane Evacuation Preparedness, agreements between states are needed when contra-flow operations impact and flow into other states: “By June 2003, Mississippi and Louisiana had reached a revised agreement for Mississippi to use contra flow on I-59 in Mississippi to support Louisiana’s evacuation when contra flow was implemented on I-59 in Louisiana.”

The Planning Magazine article “Danger! Coastal States Get Ready for a Really Rainy Day: By Cranking Up Their Evacuation Plan” reported: “Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia have formed the Delmarva Emergency Task Force to improve evacuation traffic flow between the states. The Georgia Emergency Management Agency has created an interstate coordinator position to facilitate communications with neighboring states.”

Cross Training – Cross training can prove to be beneficial during an incident. As reported in Southern California Firestorm 2003: Report for the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, “At one center (southern California wildfires), interagency cooperation was a decisive factor in the success of operations. Dispatchers had cross-trained in other agency dispatchers’ duties on previous fires. They had become knowledgeable on agency similarities and differences to minimize agency specific problems. One respondent said, ‘Our goal is to be seamless. They hear one voice no matter who answers the phone.’”

Southern California Firestorm 2003 also reported: “Respondents indicated that this level of interagency cooperation took many years to develop (for the southern California wildfires) before they could begin to work on the functional design of the center and possible plans and contingencies for mega fires and other disasters. The center found ways to organize more efficiently. Now an Initial Attack dispatcher just looks up, and there’s the person she needs to talk to right in front of her, instead of across the room looking in the wrong direction.”

Decisions of States – Evacuation of people during hurricanes can impact other states. Decisions made in one state can impact another. As reported in “Floyd Follies: What We've Learned,” “As many as two million Floridians left home during Floyd, an exodus that overwhelmed highways and transportation networks. As they poured into Georgia and South Carolina, they bumped into people traveling west from Savannah and Charleston to escape the hurricane. The result was massive traffic gridlock. To compound the problem, each state planned and carried out its evacuation in isolation as if it were an independent republic with restricted borders. ‘Everyone did his own thing,’ says William Massey, hurricane program manager for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. ‘The evacuation was not a concerted, coordinated effort.’”

External Coordination – External coordination is important during an evacuation situation. Cooperating agencies provide information that can assist another entity in its evacuation efforts. According to Learning from the 2003 Blackout: “Within 5 minutes of the blackout, Con Edison, Inc., personnel had notified New York City Transit managers that the power outage was extensive and potentially long in duration. Evacuation of subway passengers began in the next 10 minutes.”

External coordination is needed to institute an agreement to use contra-flow operations during an evacuation event. According to Reversing the Flow, the Texas Transportation Institute “presented the results of its findings to, and facilitated consensus-building among a 50-member hurricane evacuation committee. The full support of the hurricane advisory committee was essential to the adoption of the new plan. The consensus of the committee was, with the adoption of the new plan, to reverse flow for approximately 90 miles of I-37. Estimates from the model showed that reverse flow would increase evacuation significantly by allowing over 40,000 more citizens to evacuate during a 12-hour period.”

As a result of the Texas Transportation Institute efforts, Reversing the Flow reported: “Texas Department of Transportation presented the plan to county commissioners, with the meeting being broadcast over public access television. The plan met with endorsement from Department of Public Safety, the agency in charge of evacuation procedures, and has been approved and adopted for use in any hurricane rated at Category 3 or above.”

In the San Diego area, a mountain area safety taskforce was created to support coordination efforts during the southern California wildfires. Southern California Firestorm 2003: Report for the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center reported: “Mountain Area Safety is a county organization composed of local, state, and federal government agencies, private companies, and volunteer organizations. Among other things, these organizations are tasked with assuring public safety through the development of evacuation plans, hazard tree and fuel removal, and planning and public information. There is no question in the respondents’ minds that the Mountain Area Safety effort, including training and planning, saved a large number of lives and homes. Respondents indicated that Mountain Area Safety planning cut two to three days off of the time required to establish an effective multi-agency, unified command.”

According to the Southern California Firestorm 2003 report,the Mountain Area Safety Taskforce also “conducted tabletop rehearsals of evacuations in the event of catastrophic wildfires. As a result, nearly 100,000 people were evacuated quickly and without incident (during the southern California wildfires). The Mountain Area Safety Taskforce prepared a training video for law enforcement officers (basic fire behavior, incident command systems), and all law enforcement agency leaders had trained all their personnel prior to these fires. These efforts proved instrumental, allowing law enforcement agencies to seamlessly pull together into the unified command vs. the traditional approach of a separate law enforcement command structure and incident command post.”

Importance of Coordination – Coordination is cited as important during an evacuation incident. According to Disaster Response and Evacuation User Service: An Addendum to the ITS Program Plan: “Hurricanes are anticipated and occur slowly, providing time for adequate warning and an orderly, well-planned evacuation. Other types of disasters may occur rapidly, without warning, and allow little or no time for evacuation preparation or public warning. Whether an evacuation is pre-planned and directed by local government, or is a spontaneous evacuation by a portion of the population, many agencies will be involved and must coordinate.”

Emergency management officials emphasize the importance of coordination. The American City and County article “Community Evacuation: Ensuring Safe Passage” reported: “More than ever, city and county officials are building relationships with state, federal and local partners to create comprehensive emergency response plans. Those partnerships are invaluable in evacuation planning. ‘It is important to involve elected officials from state, city and county governments,’ Lieutenant Byron Sieber, commander for planning and research for the Grand Forks, North Dakota, Police Department says. ‘They all have to be on board with a decision to tell thousands of people to leave their homes.’ Grand Forks’ evacuation plan focuses primarily on the threat of flooding. Situated along the Red River, which forms North Dakota's eastern border, the city has a flat terrain that offers no protection when the river rises; water swelling just one foot above the riverbank will cover a floodplain of one square mile.”

Coordination is citied as necessary between entities involved in evacuations. According to I-95 Shutdown: Coordinating Transportation and Emergency Response: “‘In Maryland,’ says Sergeant [Rick] Vecera [of the Maryland State Police], ‘when an incident involves fire, hazardous materials, or rescue, it is the fire companies who decide when the situation will allow roads to reopen. However, it is seldom a black-and-white decision, so cooperation among all concerned parties at the scene, like we saw on this crash [I-95 tanker explosion in Baltimore, Maryland], is what really comes into play.’”

Improvements in Coordination – Improvements, at times, can be made to coordination efforts. From the Ashes of the 2003 California Wildfires: Perspectives on the Future—S04-13 reported: “Local issues are some of the biggest challenges now and in the future, especially in San Diego where fire management is very fragmented and citizens will not support more organized fire services. In Cedar Glen [part of the Old Fire—southern California wildfires), an area with very old infrastructure, a lot of people want to rebuild in the same manner as what was there before. An after action report on emergency management highlighted the need for better integration across all phases of emergency management; improved access to information before, during, and after an event; and better post-fire hazard identification and inter-agency collaboration.”

Inclusion of Multiple Groups – Coordination requires the inclusion of multiple groups impacted by an evacuation incident. The American City and County article “Community Evacuation: Ensuring Safe Passage” reported: “Flooding occurs frequently in Grand Forks, and, as a result, the city’s evacuation planners meet regularly with representatives of the Police, Fire, Emergency Medical Services, Public Health, Public Works, and Public Relations departments to evaluate existing protocols and consider all contingencies. Communication with local and national weather services is instrumental in giving decision-makers the information they need to call for and manage evacuations (during the flood). Planners also are in contact with relief organizations—such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and United Way—that can provide shelter and food for residents who have nowhere to go during an evacuation. In addition to working with local and private partners, Grand Forks’ planners communicate regularly with state officials. ‘They provide the authority you need to evacuate,’ Sieber explains.”

Inclusion of Non-Traditional Emergency Management Personnel – Personnel from various entities departments are included in interagency coordination efforts during evacuations or during the cleanup efforts. “Community Evacuation: Ensuring Safe Passage” reported: “Terry Tullier, Deputy Chief of the New Orleans Fire Department and Interim Director for the City's Office of Emergency Preparedness, notes that, in addition to public safety and emergency services personnel, New Orleans’ parks personnel are on call during natural disasters. ‘Winds from a hurricane will knock down trees, and our Parks Department and local utility company must be prepared to clear them out of the way,’ he explains.”

Inclusion of Transit – Transit entities are being included in external relationships. According to Saving City Lifelines: Lessons Learned in the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks: “The New York Office of Emergency Management staff members are working with transit agencies to continue to strengthen their relationships. As a consequence of 9/11 (terrorist attacks), plans are now in place to add cars to trains or to alter bus service in response to disaster needs. The Office of Emergency Management has developed stronger links to all transit agencies. Each Metropolitan Transit Authority agency had its own evacuation plan in place before 9/11, but these plans were not all coordinated with each other or with the Office of Emergency Management. In addition, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has since assigned two of its employees to act as liaison officers to ensure coordination of emergency plans with the Office of Emergency Management. In future events, these officers will become the lead staff to coordinate the emergency response between the Office of Emergency Management and Metropolitan Transit Authority, which represents the transit community.”

Internal Coordination – Internal coordination of an entity should be in place before an evacuation is needed. Synthesis of Transit Practice 27: Emergency Preparedness for Transit Terrorism detailed the following guidelines for internal coordination:“Develop internal coordination to allow for communication and information to flow to those departments responsible for notification and response. Understand the jurisdictional relationships—control over a situation should not be determined on the spot. [It is] important to clarify jurisdictional authorities and responsibilities in advance of a response.”

Unified Voice – Having a unified voice has been cited as essential. According to Southern California Firestorm 2003: Report for the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, “Respondents reported that it was essential for the protection and suppression effort to work collaboratively with line officers, their natural and cultural resource specialists, and city and county government (during the southern California wildfires). Fire suppression and resource management goals are often in natural conflict with one another, and it is important that the land management agency line officer, resource specialists, and the incident organizations all have the same goals and that those common goals translate into planning and are communicated to the community with a unified voice.”

Working Groups – Cities have created working groups and agreed-upon responses to emergency, thus leading to a coordinated response to an emergency. For example, Homeland Security: Effective Regional Coordination Can Enhance Emergency Preparedness reported: “The Dallas-Fort Worth’s Regional Emergency Managers Group has served as a forum for the region’s emergency preparedness officials to analyze, plan for, and make decisions about various regional initiatives, such as improving inter jurisdictional communications interoperability. Within this group, an associated subgroup explored technical issues related to communications interoperability. The Regional Emergency Managers Group evaluated technology options and is creating a regional purchasing plan to facilitate the purchase of interoperable communications equipment. Without interoperable radios and other communications equipment, police and fire departments in different jurisdictions cannot easily communicate when responding to an emergency.”

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