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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies Communication Devices

There are multiple ways to communicate including the traditional methods of loud speakers and canvassing of streets and high-technology cell phones with television screens that receive evacuation orders and information.

Governmental units such as the federal government understand the need to communicate and are “in the first stages of planning ways to communicate with endangered downwind communities (based on a nuclear incident), via radio, television or cell phones,” as reported in the Washington Post article “US Called Unprepared for Nuclear Terrorism.”

The term “communication device” includes software used to communicate traffic information and hydrowatch information that is communicated to the state. Communication devices also include the traditional devices such as bullhorns and highway advisory radio.

511 Travel Information – As of early 2005, there are 20 states with statewide coverage and 7 regions that have 511 travel information services, which covers about 48 percent of the US population. Another 18 states and regions are planning to begin 511 service in 2005 and 2006. In an emergency situation, 511 services can provide information to the traveling public. As reported in America’s Traveler Information Number: Deployment Assistance Report #3: 511 and Homeland Security, “511 system operators must consider the broader impacts of the emergency on travel options. This may require wider coordination with other agencies to determine ‘safe’ escape routes to locations where travel options are less disrupted, and a thorough interpretation of available options including alternative means, e.g., ferry, walking. This, in turn, may require 511 system operators to have a regional and multi-modal knowledge of transportation systems in their area.”

Weather information is also available on 511. This service can be used by evacuees to provide information on changing weather conditions. America’s Traveler Information Number also reported: “Weather information on a 511 system can range from a regional alert (hurricane, winter storm, etc.) to a route specific observation or alert (low visibility, icy pavement, high winds, etc.). Deployers should include any available weather-related information that could impact a person’s travel and attempt to package and deliver the information in a consistent manner. The two keys to weather are relaying impacts and providing navigational references to aid the traveler.”

511 travel information can also provide information that may be of use to evacuees during an evacuation incident. The report adds: “In times of emergencies, uninterruptible broadcast messages can deliver a brief, important message at or after the greeting of a 511 service and terminate the call, thus creating a 511 system that has short call durations and is able to disseminate the most critical information to all callers and nothing else. This will alleviate some of the peak capacity issues that deployers are experiencing.”

In addition, America’s Traveler Information Number reported that the Virginia Department of Transportation has “found that 511 is a welcome asset during incident and traffic management situations. The 511 service is being used in conjunction with permanent and portable changeable message signs to relay critical information to travelers during major incidents, typically hazardous material spills that can close an Interstate. Because changeable message signs are limited to three lines of text on three panels, multiple detour listings and describing complex situations is generally not possible. The changeable message signs convey the necessary information as they normally would in these situations, but they also prompt travelers to dial 511 for additional information.”

According to the report, “In one situation, Virginia Department of Transportation used changeable message signs up to 100 miles from an incident to alert drivers to dial 511 where they received information on up to three detours depending on their desired destination. Virginia Department of Transportation has documented that by using the changeable message signs and 511 together, call volumes to the service doubled almost immediately.”

511 travel information can also be used for major events. As reported in the America’s Traveler Information Number report, “511 is a capable tool in assisting in the management of major events. While most major events around the country tend to be weather-related, or incident related, some are planned events, like the Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002. Utah Department of Transportation developed the 511 service with special content features designed specifically for the Olympics. These features included driving directions to venues, event schedules and tips for commuters. The service also offered a link to transit services and provided roadway conditions for the area. In all, the Olympics were a significant and immediate successful test for the system. Major events, such as bridge collapses that completely shut down roadways, also offer an opportunity to use 511 in conjunction with traffic and incident management tools familiar to department of transportation’s.”

According to the Intelligent Transportation Society of America: News of the Week article “WSDOT (Washington Department of Transportation) Answers the Call for a Push-Button 511 Option,” the State of Washington provided improvements to the 511 system: “Motorists calling the travel information line, 511, are now offered an alternative to the voice-activated system, the Washington State Department of Transportation announced last Friday (December 2, 2004). Callers can now press the ‘pound’ sign (#) to get information in a push-button manner. Washington State Department of Transportation implemented the new option to ease caller frustration when the system couldn't understand callers’ voices.”

Automated Calling System to Emergency Planners – The State of California has an automated calling system that alerts local emergency planners. In July of 2005, state officials learned of the issues with the system. As reported in the Contra Costa Times article “Tiny Wave Reveals Gaps in Tsunami Readiness,” The tiny wave generated by a major undersea earthquake off the far Northern California coast last month revealed large gaps in how ready communities hugging the Pacific shoreline are for a true tsunami threat. Although the alert was canceled about an hour after blaring sirens warned some towns of a possible killer wave that never arrived, the effects of the 7.2-magnitude quake are still rattling emergency planners. Some residents received no warning on the evening of June 14; in other cases, word was not spread wide enough or fast enough. The event also exposed how some heavily populated areas lack an evacuation plan even if they did receive quick warning.

“The underwater earthquake about 90 miles west of Crescent City produced a 1-centimeter wave, roughly the width of an adult's finger, detected by an ocean pressure-measuring buoy. That triggered the tsunami warning. Sirens sounded, and thousands of people fled for higher ground in far northern California and parts of Oregon. Many residents heard warnings through TV and radio, but some remote communities received no notice. Last month, Henry Renteria, the director of the California Office of Emergency Services, acknowledged gaps in the alert system but told state lawmakers that he was pleased with the overall response. The state has since retrained its staff and plans to spend $300,000 to expand a warning system that would automatically contact cell phones and pagers of as many as 2,000 local emergency planners,” as reported in the Contra Costa Times article.

Bullhorn, Loud Speakers, Street-by-Street Canvas, Face-to-Face, and Hand Outs – Occasionally, a traditional communication device such as the bullhorn, may be necessary. As reported in the American City and County article “Community Evacuation: Ensuring Safe Passage,” “Television and radio have their shortcomings as well, making it necessary for emergency departments to retain their oldest technology—the bullhorn. [Terry] Tullier [Deputy Chief of the New Orleans Fire Department and Interim Director for the City’s Office of Emergency Preparedness] notes that street-by-street canvassing is part of any evacuation and is especially important in communities with non-English-speaking residents.”

Transportation in Emergencies: An Often Neglected Story cites the use of loud hailers and door-to-door communication: “The 1979 Mississauga evacuation began late on a Saturday night with a train carrying styrene, toluene, caustic soda, propane and chlorine derailed and caught fire. When the Propane cars started to BLEVE (explode) and police smelled the leaking Chlorine, they decided an evacuation was essential. They started by moving out those in the immediate vicinity but eventually cleared out 217,000 persons, the largest evacuation in Canadian peacetime history. Police announced each evacuation in advance—even showing maps on cable television—then sent police officers door to door with police cars using loud hailers following them.”

The article “Plant Fire Brings Call to Evacuate” reports the use of loud speakers to evacuate residents during the chemical fire and evacuation at Anderson, Indiana, on January 14, 2005: “Officers went through Anderson neighborhoods with loudspeakers, urging residents to leave.” During the southern California wildfires of 2003, Fire Lessons Learned in California reported: “‘In some smaller communities, evacuation orders were issued via a helicopter equipped with a loudspeaker system,’ recalled Thomas Cova, a researcher from the University of Utah.”

In flood-prone areas in New South Wales, door knocking is targeted due to the number of potential evacuees. According to Flood Warnings: Recent Lessons Learned and Developments Under Way, “In the latest Grafton Local Flood Plan, a map showing numbers of households in census collector districts is included to help the flood response managers plan their door knocking strategies.”

During the hazardous materials fire in El Dorado, Arkansas, on January 2005, “police were knocking on doors and calling out over loud speakers, alerting people living around the warehouse to leave fast,” as reported in the article “Air Near Plant Safe; Residents Sent Home.”

In some evacuation situations, entity staffers are sent to distribute information verbally and in handouts. According to Saving City Lifelines: Lessons Learned in the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, “New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City Transit and New Jersey Transit also sent administrative staff into the streets and subways armed with bullhorns and newly printed maps and instruction sheets, to provide up-to-date information, hand out flyers, and directly assist passengers.”

During the southern California wildfires, the radio systems were incompatible leading to difficult communications. According to Southern California Firestorm 2003: Report for the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, various methods were used to communicate including face-to-face contact between structure protection group leaders: “As the structure protection group leaders recognized the communications disconnect, they took the initiative to find each other, meet face to face, and resolve the situation. Once this error chain was broken, resources began to flow to critical areas and the incident management teams started receiving more accurate situation awareness from resources in the city.” 

In addition, according to the Southern California Firestorm 2003 report, “Leaders repeatedly reported that the most effective way to overcome communications incompatibility and conflicts was to meet face-to-face to coordinate. However, while leaders were engaged in face-to-face discussions, they could not always give updates and new information to resources under them. In many areas, especially those protected by resources that were not local to the area, leaders reported this information gap caused a hesitancy to engage because they felt they faced increased risk resulting from the lack of communication. Other units, recognizing the lack of communication, were forced to exercise their initiative and take independent action in areas where they felt the situation and the values at risk required it.”

According to the report, “Respondents reported that stopping and communicating with residents, as much as the situation allowed, was very important in preventing homeowners from becoming dangerous distractions (during the southern California wildfires). In some cases, firefighters provided fire shirts and hard hats to residents who would not evacuate, and got them busy preparing homes and assisting firefighters as field observers or sources of local information. Respondents said that communicating their risk criteria, trigger points and contingency actions seemed to reduce the stress in the residents and subsequently the stress the residents placed on firefighters when the situation worsened.”

Bus and Train Communications System – Some evacuations, such as the 9/11 experience in New York City, involve the evacuation of people through the use of public transit. Evacuees used a mix of transit options. However, information regarding the next available vehicle was provided by transit agency personnel. Another option is a bus and train communication system that provides communication between the two services to provide location and time information to the public.

According to the ITS International News article “World First Claimed for Bus/Train Communications System,” in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Greater Copenhagen Authority “is working with ITS consultant Hyder Consulting to introduce global positioning software technology which will minimize passenger waiting times when interchanging between the two services. Buses and trains will be able to communicate with each other in real time using a city wide digital communication architecture, and thus report to drivers the location and time of arrival of corresponding services. Passengers on board trains and buses will be informed by way of on-vehicle screens of the status of their next corresponding service.”

Cable Television – Local cable services can also provide information during an evacuation incident. For example, the American City and County article “Community Evacuation: Ensuring Safe Passage” reported its usage in Grand Forks, North Dakota: “A cable interrupt system allows the city to communicate with residents directly via television. ‘The system is activated by picking up a phone in our dispatch center, and we can deliver a message to everyone watching cable television,’ [Lieutenant Byron] Sieber [Commander for Planning and Research for the Grand Forks, North Dakota, Police Department] says.”

According to the Compendium: Graduate Student Papers on Advanced Surface Transportation Systems: Application of ITS Technology to Hurricane Evacuation Routes, in Galveston, Texas, “the Emergency Management Coordinator has access to the only cable provider on the island. He has the power to override all programming to alert the public of a recommended evacuation.”

Cell Phones – In an evacuation situation, traditional methods of seeking information about the evacuation event, such as the use of the Internet, television, and/or radio, may be difficult. Phone service has been used to seek out and provide information regarding the evacuation incident. As reported in America's Traveler Information Number: Deployment Assistance Report #3: 511 and Homeland Security, “Under ‘normal’ conditions there are multiple media for dissemination information to travelers. However, on September 11, the need for a(n) exodus on foot from the affected areas precluded the options to use the Internet, television, or even radio. For many, cell phones became the primary means of communication in the hours following the attacks. Perhaps, one of the most immediate lessons that can be learned from September 11 is how the demand for travel information changed during the attacks and in the following days and weeks.”

Driving while talking on a cell phone can be unsafe, especially during an evacuation. According to the Intelligent Transportation Society of America: News of the Week article “Ford Selects Sprint as Preferred Provider for Hands-Free Bluetooth Communication System,” on September 1, 2004, Sprint PCS and the Ford Motor Company announced that the “Ford Motor Company has selected Sprint to be the preferred wireless provider of Bluetooth phones and service for the company's new Mobile-Ease Hands-Free Communication System. Mobile-Ease is a dealer-installed option for select Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles that utilizes Bluetooth technology to wirelessly integrate mobile phones with the vehicle's audio system, providing drivers and passengers the safety and convenience of hands-free calling.” As a result, evacuees are able to communicate hands free.

Services are now available for cell phone users to alert them to real-time traffic information. As reported in the San Jose Mercury News article “Stuck on the Freeway? Your Cell Phone Will Guide You,” in February 2, 2005, Rand McNally launched a traffic information service for $3.99 a month for customers of AT&T, Sprint PCS, and Verizon Wireless. “Rand McNally Traffic puts highway maps on your phone’s screen with color coding to speed. If a stretch of Highway 101 is red, traffic is crawling along at 33 miles per hour, yellow section along Interstate 880 means cars are moving at a moderate 33 to 59 mph. If there’s green along Interstate 280, you’re free to move at or near the speed limit—California Highway Patrol isn’t looking, even faster. The maps also display icons to indicate the location of accidents, construction, and other killers. You can click the icons, using the keypad on your phone, to get details of why in traffic.” According to the article, there are at least three other companies offering similar services: MapQuest Traffic, Pharos Science & Applications, and Vindigo Traffic.

In addition, there is another tool, the Palm Traffic for Treo Smartphones. It costs $4.99 a month for traffic updates for one city. As reported in the Contra Costa Times article “New Software Helps Commuters Dodge Traffic,” “you can zoom into the part of the map that affects you most and bookmark spots of greatest interest. Tap on one of the flashing circles for detailed written information. One recent example: ‘Garden State Parkway at Exit 145. There is an accident involving an overturned vehicle causing heavy delays on the northbound Garden State Parkway north of Exit 145 I-280-Central Avenue-East Orange-Newark.’ The dots may also tell you if highway traffic is moving slow (‘Miles per Hour: 35—Southern State Parkway Exit 32’) or if there are delays at major ‘chokepoints’ (‘Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan has 10 min. delays’). Palm Inc. gets the traffic data from a company called MetroCommute, which takes sensor and accident data from local transportation officials. It also adds information obtained through its own cameras and speed detectors at bridges, tolls and other high-traffic areas. The traffic updates for some cities are also available for free on and as text messages. The data refresh every 15 minutes by default, though you can set it to refresh as quickly as every 5 minutes or simply tap a button on the screen for an instant update.”

Cell phones have been used by the traveling public to alert officials to accidents that lead to an evacuation effort. According to I-95 Shutdown: Coordinating Transportation and Emergency Response,“Within minutes of the [tanker] explosion [on I-95], the Maryland State Police began receiving calls about the incident from motorists dialing #77 on their cellular phones, and fire and police departments from multiple jurisdictions reported to the scene and its vicinity.”

According to Flood Warnings: Recent Lessons Learned and Developments Under Way, New South Wales uses a short messaging service to alert citizens of the possibility of flooding: “The State Emergency Service’s short messaging service system is currently being trialed in Lismore. The mobile phone based short messaging service is being used to broadcast text messages to targeted, geographically defined groups of mobile phone users who have registered for the free service. The system has only recently been rolled out, and so far, only test broadcasts have been sent. In the near future however, the system will be used during flood and storm events. For example, as a flood approaches, the State Emergency Service will send text messages to subscribers in the areas affected. The messages will warn of the impending flood, provide predictions of the flood’s likely severity, recommend courses of action and refer the user to sources of further information.”

Cell phones with video capabilities also have the potential to assist the authorities during times of emergencies. As reported in the Tri-Valley Herald article “Cell Phone Cameras Aid TV News Coverage”: “The video was grainy, shaky but undeniably compelling: passengers standing in the aisle of a subway car, its windows shattered following one of the coordinated explosions in London. Several US television executives said that as far as they knew, it was the first time video taken from a cellular phone was used during coverage of a major story. It was no doubt a harbinger of things to come. ‘It was a clip that we used no more than two, three thousand times,’ joked John Moody, Fox News Channel senior vice president. The video taken by a commuter first aired on Britain’s Sky News, a Fox sister station. Still photographs taken by cell phone also were used in many newspapers. One cell phone picture by commuter Alexander Chadwick, distributed by The Associated Press, appeared on the front pages of both The New York Times and The Washington Post. News stations have increasingly relied on amateur video to help tell major stories such as last December’s tsunami. But as more people get cellular phones with video capability, it’s much more likely that a bystander at an unexpected news event will be carrying a phone instead of a video camera. ‘I think you’re looking at a portent of things to come,’ said NBC News President Neal Shapiro. When he heard about Thursday’s explosions, London-based Sandy MacIntyre, director of news for Associated Press Television News, said the first thing he told his staff was that someone must have cellular phone or video footage.”

Cell phones occasionally have shortcomings. For example, these shortcomings were cited in San Bernardino County Fire Chiefs’ Association: Lessons Learned Report: Fire Storm 2003: “Old Fire”: “Although cell phones were used to attempt to overcome communications problems, the cell systems became overloaded by the inordinate cell phone use. In addition, some areas lost cell towers or experienced power outages because of the fire.”

During times of crisis, people with cell phones tend to use them to contact others. Government entities have the potential to tap into this occurrence with the ability to map cell phone use in a community. While unable to detect what type of incident, this mapping should alert authorities to potential incidents or events that generate cell phone usage. As reported in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Web site article “MIT Researchers Map City by Cell Phone”: “Using anonymous cell phone data provided by the leading cell phone operator in Austria, A1/Mobilkom, the researchers developed the Mobile Landscapes project, creating electronic maps of cell phone use in the metropolitan area of Graz, Austria, the country’s second-largest city. The researchers used three types of data—density of cell phone calls, origins and destinations of the calls, and position of users tracked at regular intervals—to create computer-generated images that can be overlayed with one another and with geographic and street maps of a city to show the peaks and valleys of the landscape as well as peaks in cell phone use. In recent years, techniques to locate and track mobile devices have become increasingly available; such techniques were crucial to law enforcement officials in their investigation of the Madrid and London terrorist bombings. MIT’s Mobile Landscapes project takes advantage of these techniques at an unprecedented scale by mapping an entire urban region continually at regular intervals. The research could also have implications for use in large-scale emergencies and for transportation engineers seeking ways to better manage freeway traffic.” 

Cell Phone Television Screen – New and improved cell phones may be available in the future that could receive evacuation orders and information. The Japan Times Online article “Disaster Broadcasts Via Cell Phone Eyed” reported: “KDDI Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. have gotten together to develop a phone where the phone’s liquid crystal screen automatically changes to a TV screen, and information appears on the lower part. The terminal is equipped with a global positioning system. The developers want terrestrial digital broadcasting and mobile phone technology combined to send evacuation orders and disaster information during large-scale disasters.”

According to the Japan Times Online article “Cell phones to Be Used as Data Source in Disasters,” “More than one year has passed since terrestrial digital broadcasting services began a new TV era in Japan, with the services spreading from major cities to some rural areas where prefectural government offices are located. ‘This is a news bulletin. There was a strong earthquake in the Kanto region,’ the voice of an announcer sounded from a mobile phone in a shirt pocket. When the user looked at the liquid crystal screen, it automatically changed to a TV screen, and text containing information began to appear in the lower part of the screen. This is the scene of a demonstration using a mobile phone produced on a trial basis that can receive terrestrial digital broadcasting services. KDDI Corp and Hitachi Ltd are jointly developing the mobile phone. The terminal is equipped with a global positioning system (GPS). ‘Linked with the GPS, broadcasters can also automatically send information about the nearest shelter,’ said Tatsuo Shibata, deputy director of the media technology development department at KDDI. The combination of terrestrial digital broadcasting and cell phone technology is what the developers want to be used for sending evacuation orders and alarm information to people during large-scale disasters. The services to cell phone are scheduled to begin during fiscal 2005.”

Catastrophic Level Event and Emergency Response (CLEER) – A new software may be soon available for local authorities with a visual display of disaster events as they unfold. As reported in the London Free Press article “Software Firm Can Model Disasters,” the CLEER program can provide “police and fire officials a real-time graphic display of an unfolding disaster... It’s really giving you a view from the clouds, top down. You now have a visual display that allows you to make decisions." The program can be used to plan evacuations and emergency response to such emergencies as tornadoes, train derailments, floods, and terrorist attacks. The program will be accessed through a controlled-access Internet Web site. [Paul] Paolatto [Keigan Systems chief executive] said the CLEER system should be ready for launch by next spring and will be marketed, in collaboration with 3M Canada, to municipalities and private corporations such as chemical companies. The CLEER program will be marketed on a subscription basis for between $25,000 and $50,000 annually.”

Community Awareness Programs: Emergency Planning – The Department of Homeland Security provided an ad campaign beginning in September 2004 in an effort to prepare the nation for another terrorist attack.

As reported in the USA TODAY article “Ad Campaign Urges Employers, Families to Plan for Emergency,” “For the past year, the Homeland Security Department and groups, such as the American Red Cross, have encouraged families to make plans and put together emergency kits. The kits should include food and water, flashlights, battery-powered radios, and anything else needed to get by for up to three days if the power is out, communications are down and it’s impossible to leave home. Officials have promoted these preparations as crucial not just for a terrorist attack but also for hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters. Polls show 4 in 10 Americans have followed the advice.”

The article also reported: “Employers will be encouraged to develop continuity plans so they can keep operating through a crisis. They also will be encouraged to give their workers wallet cards with company information and to clearly mark exit routes. Steven Brill of the non-profit America Prepared Campaign says businesses must do more to prepare for emergencies. ‘Some are doing a good job, but some aren’t.’”

Community Awareness Programs: Storm Ready Communities – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recognizes communities around the country as storm ready. The goal of the program is to reduce the impact of severe weather and flooding threats on communities.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Web site, “The nationwide community preparedness program uses a grassroots approach to help communities develop plans to handle local severe weather and flooding threats. The program is voluntary, and provides communities with clear-cut advice from a partnership between the local National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office and state and local emergency managers. Storm Ready started in 1999 with seven communities in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area. There are now more than 820 Storm Ready communities in 47 states, five of which are now located in Virginia. The Storm Ready recognition will be in effect for three years, at which time the community will go through a recertification process. To be recognized as Storm Ready, a community must: establish a 24-hour warning point and emergency operations center; have more than one way to receive severe weather warnings and forecasts and to alert the public; create a system that monitors weather conditions locally; promote the importance of public readiness through community seminars; and develop a formal hazardous weather plan, which includes training severe weather spotters and holding emergency exercises.”

Community Awareness Programs: Tsunami Certified Communities – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration certifies communities as Tsunami Ready. According to its Web site, in order to be certified, “the community must have an Emergency Operations Center, the ability to disseminate a tsunami warning (sirens, local media), have a Tsunami Hazard Plan, have a community awareness program and have multiple ways to receive National Weather Service tsunami warnings.”

One of these certified communities is Cannon Beach, Oregon. The ABC article “US on Guard for Tsunami Risks: West Coast Prepares with Warning Systems and Drills” reported: “The town is one of 11 communities, stretching from California to Alaska, that have now been certified by the federal government as ‘tsunami-ready.’ [As a result,] evacuation routes have been established. Residents have signed up to call each other in emergencies. Loudspeakers have been put up around town—and are tested, twice a month, with a recording of a cow's mooing. A siren sound would send people running. ‘It tells them that high-speed waves are expected and that they should head to high ground,’ said Alfred Aya, the emergency management chief for Cannon Beach. ‘Tsunamis are very rare, but you never know when they’re going to hit, so we can’t afford to take chances.’”

eCall – A potential new technology that is planned for Europe in 2009 is eCall—an automatic emergency call system using global positioning software that is to be installed in new cars. The article “EU to Use New Emergency Call System,” reported: “As part of a new safety initiative, the European Union (EU) plans to require an automatic emergency call system, using global positioning software technology, in all new cars by 2009. The plan, called eCall and confirmed by a commission meeting in Brussels Thursday, would report your exact coordinates and any other information it can collect about the crash to a Public Service Answering Point (PSAP), which would report the information in a standardized way to the proper local emergency dispatch crews. The exact coordinates and standardized form will help reduce response times, and direct access to other information will help with EMT preparedness. No such system exists yet for the US Automaker-implemented systems like GM’s OnStar and Mercedes-Benz’s TeleAid allow accidents to be reported, but the call or signal is first routed through an operator who then relays the information to the appropriate emergency operator. According to a release, studies have suggested that, once fully implemented, eCall could save up to 2000 lives per year in Europe. Implementation specifics are to be decided by the end of this year with field tests beginning next year.”

E-Mail Notification and Phone Alert Rings – E-mail notification and phone alert rings have been used to communicate information. According to the Federal Highway Administration Transportation Evacuation Planning and Operations Workshops 2004 presentation “How the Big Easy Became the Worst Possible Hurricane Disaster,” the State of Louisiana has “identified 180 key decision makers who need weather information, [with] automatic emails alerting them of the weather and alert rings selected by them [for phone calls that need to be made].”

Emergency Alert System – The City of Denver uses an emergency alert system to communicate to the public. As reported in the American City and County article “Community Evacuation: Ensuring Safe Passage,” the Office of Emergency Management uses the Emergency Alert System, which replaced the conventional Emergency Broadcast System. Using digital technology, the Emergency Alert System can transmit live or recorded messages to broadcast media and to specially equipped consumer televisions, radios, pagers, and other digital devices. The Emergency Alert System also allows unattended media to receive and transmit emergency messages automatically.

Evacuation Traffic Information System – Software systems are utilized by states to assist in hurricane evacuations and provide communication to affected states. The TR News article “Emergency Evacuation: Ensuring Safe and Efficient Transportation Out of Endangered Areas” reported: “The Federal Highway Administration, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and state agencies, supports the Evacuation Traffic Information System, a web-based, geographic information system tool for sharing information among states and agencies. Developed in response to the evacuation for Hurricane Floyd, the ETIS (Evacuation Traffic Information System) graphically displays the evacuation status of coastal counties, counties, contra flow segments in use, and the number of vehicles expected to cross state lines. The ETIS (Evacuation Traffic Information System) is the first step in using technology to improve coordination among the various state and federal agencies involved in hurricane evacuations.”

Flood Bulletins – Flood bulletins are issued by local governments for potential flood situations. According to Flood Warnings: Recent Lessons Learned and Developments Under Way, in New South Wales, Australia, flood bulletins are issued by the state and provided to the media. These bulletins can include “advice on what actions people should take to protect themselves and their property (indicating appropriate time frames for these actions); areas of danger to be avoided; road conditions (roads that are currently closed, may become closed and/or will not be closed); contact details for State Emergency Service Units in the event of assistance being required; and contact details for obtaining road information.”

Flood Warnings also reports that flood bulletins tend to be “‘media unfriendly.’ They can be overly long, and contain lists of information, such as road closures, which are poorly suited to radio broadcasts. This is understandable, given the large volume of information that flood response managers try to get across to the public during floods.” However, emergency officials are trying to improve the style and content of their flood bulletins.

According to Flood Warnings,“The best flood bulletins are short (one page maximum) and cover a small number of themes. To get the necessary information to the public via the media will mean that the State Emergency Service will have to release more bulletins more frequently than in the past. In other words there could be three different kinds of flood bulletins—warning bulletins, road closure bulletins and news bulletins (media releases).”

In addition, Flood Warnings reports:“Flood response managers should not fear that they would create ‘panic’ in disseminating these bulletins; the real challenge is to make sure that people hear and understand the message and are therefore given a chance to do something which is in their own interests.”

Ham Operators – Ham operators have assisted in communicating information during an evacuation. For example, the American Radio Relay League Inc. article “Hams Staffing Shelters, Nets as Floyd Nears” reported: In the State of Georgia, ham operators “assisted evacuees needing assistance with directions or locating shelter.”

Ham operators provided information and assistance during the evacuation from Mississauga, Canada. According to the Hot Bananas (Oakville, Canada’s amateur radio club monthly newsletter) article “Canada’s Largest Evacuation,” a rail vehicle crashed and burned in 1979, and resulted in the largest peacetime evacuation of Canada with 12 evacuation centers and two command centers at that time: “As each centre became active, a station was put on the air with two operators at each. Health and welfare inquires began pouring in soon after the evacuation centres were opened, and it was decided to us a second repeater to handle the overflow traffic.” The ham operators were on the air for 80 hours assisting the evacuation efforts.

Highway Advisory Radio – Highway advisory radio is used to communicate information to evacuees and the general public that could be too much information for a message sign. For example, according to the Business Journal of Kansas City, Missouri article “KC Scout Officially Hits the Highway,” a new information system was recently unveiled in the Kansas City area: “The $43 million Scout system, which is operated from the Lee’s Summit site, uses closed-circuit video cameras and traffic sensors to monitor traffic along area highways. It uses electronic message boards and highway advisory radio broadcasts to alert motorists to accidents and other delays.”

HydroWatch – A communication issue cited in the literature is the collection and transfer of traffic information during an evacuation. The TR News article “Emergency Evacuation: Ensuring Safe and Efficient Transportation Out of Endangered Areas,” reported: “Traffic information is critical to the strategic management of evacuation routes and to the effective allocation of transportation resources. States are turning to ITS technologies to gain this input—however, the concentration of ITS deployment is in urban areas, and evacuation travel mostly occurs in rural areas. One system now in testing addresses the lack of rural ITS resources—the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development’s traffic, weather, and flooded-road alert system. The system combines low-tech traffic data recorders with the US Geological Survey’s Louisiana HydroWatch stream monitoring stations, to collect traffic, weather, flood, and bridge scour data at critical locations along key evacuation routes in the southern third of the state. The data then are relayed via satellite to the state emergency operations center.”

Interoperable Communications – Communication systems at times may be unable to communicate with one another due to separate channels or technology. Recently, ARINC was awarded a contract to incorporate a countywide interoperable communication solution for Clallam County in Washington state. As reported in the ARINC News article “ARINC Wins Nation’s First Communications Contract Based on SAFECOM Guidelines from DHS,” “It is the first project of its kind in the US, and the first ever to follow the guidelines for interoperability established by the US Department of Homeland Security’s SAFECOM program. ARINC will deploy its AWINSSM interoperability technology to enable more than 40 separate police, fire, emergency medical, and government agencies to communicate with one another while retaining their existing radio systems. The award is significant because AWINS is currently the only technology able to connect all types of radio, phone, data, and video communications as recommended by SAFECOM. The Clallam County deployment will point the way for five neighboring counties, as well as for thousands of other jurisdictions in the US who are grappling with similar interoperability issues.”

The ARINC News article also reports “ARINC has already started field work for the project’s first stage, a turnkey Voice-over-IP (VoIP) solution, at the county seat of Port Angeles. By August 2005, OPSCAN participating agencies will have the ability to communicate with each other easily, using their existing radio equipment and communications infrastructures.”

As stated in the press release titled IAFC Releases Interoperability Handbook (Top Priority: A Fire Service Guide to Interoperable Communications), the International Association of Fire Chiefs also has recognized the problem of radio interoperability and “developed a handbook to help fire and emergency services chiefs and officers understand communications interoperability and to provide steps to improving communications in their region. This handbook provides a common operational definition of interoperability, discusses the foundation for interoperable communications and provides direction to establish interoperability between and among public safety services, including fire, emergency medical services and law enforcement organizations.”

According to Top Priority: A Fire Service Guide to Interoperable Communications,many reports have been published supporting interoperability; unfortunately, most of them have been largely ignored. Interoperability is viewed by many as desirable but not essential. This view can no longer be supported. Although interoperability is a critical issue affecting the ability to deliver emergency services, it continues to be an elusive goal for most fire and emergency medical services organizations. Communications problems and the inability to coordinate with other disciplines and jurisdictions have been recognized as major operational limitations in every major incident, from the shootings at Columbine High School to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.”

Available commercial communication systems identified in Top Priority: A Fire Service Guide to Interoperable Communications to provide communication interoperability include:

  • Cellular service with push-to-talk capability
  • Nextel Direct Connect radio communication network, which is a nationwide wireless voice and data system
  • One- and two-way paging services using cellular phones and/or Internet-ready phones
  • Console integration providing an integrated communications system by connecting several disparate communication systems into one interoperable system
  • Global position systems enabled cellular phones
  • Commercial global position systems location and tracking systems
  • Interoperability directory of emergency response services
  • Database look-up applications to provide emergency services with remote access to key information databases
  • Patient tracking systems such as Emergency Patient Tracking System using handsets or personal digital assistants
  • Nextel emergency response team (ERT), which responds to state and federally declared disasters.

ITS Technology – ITS technology can provide information to state emergency officials. The article “Intelligent Transportation Gets Rolling” reported: “The Federal Highway Administration has tapped Florida to embark on an ambitious intelligent transportation systems. Elements of the project include: equipping Orlando’s transit fleet with automatic vehicle location technology, monitoring the two major highways that support hurricane evacuations from the Cape Canaveral coastal area, using road weather sensors to provide information on conditions, creating a statewide reporting system to house data on events, incidents, construction and other capacity restrictions.”

According to Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: August 2003 Northeast Blackout New York City,“One of the primary benefits of certain ITS equipment, including variable message signs, highway advisory radio, and traveler information sites on the Internet, is the ability to communicate transportation conditions as early as possible so that people can make choices in how they travel.”

Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations described the use of ITS equipment to communicate information to states outside of the blackout areas during the New York City blackout: “On August 14, the I-95 Corridor Coalition worked to coordinate the posting of messages among its member agencies that were outside of the affected areas. The ability to divert traffic away from an incident can help relieve congestion and speed up the recovery of the system. Numerous agencies that were located outside of the blackout area, including New Jersey Department of Transportation, New Jersey Turnpike, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and Maryland Department of Transportation, took advantage of their agency’s ITS technology and displayed messages on their variable message signs for traffic heading to the New York area. Those agencies with highway advisory placed messages on the system and several put traffic alerts on their web pages.”

According to the 2001 ITS America 11th Annual Meeting and Exposition presentation “Utilization of Florida’s Existing and Future Intelligent Transportation Systems for Enhancing Statewide Transportation System Management During and After Hurricane Evacuations,” ITS technology also includes “ITS roadside device-based systems such as video cameras, dynamic message signs (permanent), dynamic message signs (portable), traffic signal systems, highway advisory radio and (am/fm override), satellite imaging, and data collection systems.”

According to the Federal Highway Administration Transportation Evacuation Planning and Operations Workshops 2004 presentation “Reverse-Laning I-65 for Hurricane Evacuations,” the State of Alabama uses a combination of technologies, including reversed direction signing, variable message boards, Alabama Emergency Radio, and the Alabama Department of Transportation web page ( for emergency road closures links and general posting of information. Future plans include public service announcements, printed materials (rest areas, etc.), and low-band AM radio for hurricane evacuations.

Maps and Brochures – Maps and brochures have been created and distributed to the general public for areas prone to natural disasters. The Ribble Valley Borough Council of England provides a brochure and maps of areas prone to flooding. On its Web site, the Council recommends “to find out if you are at risk from flooding, use the Environment Agency Floodplain maps on their Web site.”

The Council publishes a brochure (one-page handout) entitled “No-Notice for Evacuation Homeowners Checklist.” Examples from the brochure include: “follow official advice, ignore rumors; get together your family and pets; get together a supply of warm clothing; get together special foods for babies, invalids, and pets; get together any medicines in use; get together purse, wallet, personal documents, and special sentimental valuables; pack suitcases and load the car (if you have one); make sure that fires are out and that cookers, domestic fans, TVs, etc are turned off; in winter, drain the water system to avoid problems with frozen pipes; switch off/turn off all mains supplies to your property; lock your property and take this leaflet with you when you leave; and domestic rubbish to be taken outside in readiness for collection—if time permits.”

The National Hurricane Center of Miami, Florida, provides information on hurricane evacuations such as a list of necessary items for family disaster planning and information regarding evacuation locations.

Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina provide maps showing hurricane evacuation routes on their Web sites. Georgia and South Carolina include contra-flow operations. Miami-Dade County, Florida, provides hurricane evacuation zone maps and hurricane evacuation bus pick-up points on its Web site.

During a hurricane evacuation, citizens need information. The article “Evacuation Right Call, Say Local Leaders” reported: “In Sarasota County, sheriff's deputies found themselves answering the same questions as thousands of evacuees driving over bridges from barrier islands slowed to ask where they could find a shelter. To speed the exodus from future storms, Sarasota plans to give deputies pamphlets to distribute with directions.”

According to the Compendium: Graduate Student Papers on Advanced Surface Transportation Systems: Application of ITS Technology to Hurricane Evacuation Routes,“Hurricane information is also presented at [Galveston] hotels to help keep tourists informed.”

The Borough of Monaca, Pennsylvania, is located near the Beaver Valley Power Station Nuclear Facility. The Borough of Monaca Emergency Management Agency produces a brochure on evacuation routes. The agency recommends that citizens place the brochure in the glove compartment of their vehicles for reference in case they are required to evacuate at short notice.

Message Centers – Message centers have been established after an evacuation incident to assist in communicating information. In July 1995, the Paris Metro was bombed due to a terrorist attack, and the subway was eventually evacuated. According to Protecting Surface Transportation Systems and Patrons from Terrorist Activities: Case Studies of Best Security Practices and a Chronology of Attacks, during the evacuation, “a local contact center was set up at a café near the entrance to the station. This provided a site that was easy for people to find, near the scene of the disaster, yet far enough away from the station to prevent its activities from interfering with rescue efforts. The center, which became operational within 15 minutes of the explosion, was manned by six regular Reseau Express Regional (RER) employees plus two persons from the RER’s legal department and two government social workers. The contact center offered information and assistance to family members of victims. People at the scene could also use the center to call their homes to provide worried families with information. In addition to this practical assistance, the RER’s Public Relations Department also managed media inquiries and provided continuous information to RER and Metro passengers and employees.”

Message Signs – Variable and/or dynamic message signs communicate upcoming traffic situations and conditions to evacuees and/or the driving public and/or provide information of what is ahead. For example, according to the Intelligent Transportation Society of America: News of the Week article “Key Roads to Get Message Boards,” in the State of North Carolina, “taking a city innovation to the country, the North Carolina Department of Transportation plans to install overhead message boards at four key roadway junctions in Southeastern North Carolina. Although normally seen on urban highways, like the Beltline in Raleigh or I-77 around Charlotte, the new signs are intended to provide motorists with traffic information at the earliest possible occasion, allowing them to make better decisions. But the area signs—among 12 the Department of Transportation plans to add in the next few months to the existing 77 electronic message boards scattered across the state—aren’t there just to detail detours around accidents, highway construction or congestion 60 miles up the road. With memories of the traffic gridlock tied to Hurricane Floyd evacuations still fresh in their minds, officials plan to use the signs to advertise alternate evacuation routes to Interstate 40.”

Information regarding travel times can be presented on message signs, thus helping evacuees select evacuation routes. According to the RFID Journal article “RFID Drives Highway Traffic Reports,” “the “Orlando/Orange County Expressway Authority is deploying radio frequency identification based traffic—monitoring system in central Florida. The system will use roadside radio frequency identification readers to collect signals from transponders already installed in about 1 million E-Pass and SunPass customer vehicles. The goal is to implement a system that would trace the travel time of individual cars as they pass the roadside readers, create an average trip time and then disseminate that information to the public. Information about commute times will be sent to the public on dynamic message signs, installed at motorists’ decision points around the roadway system to provide up-to-date traffic information. Motorists will also be able to access traffic information by calling 511 (the national travel information telephone number currently in use by 21 states) or by accessing a Web site that has not yet activated.”

According to I-95 Shutdown: Coordinating Transportation and Emergency Response, message signs can also communicate to others outside of the evacuation zone to not enter: “Four minutes after the crash (I-95 tanker explosion), as emergency response vehicles and personnel left their respective stations, Maryland's Coordinated Highways Action Response Team changed variable message signs along the I-95 corridor and other feeder interstates in Maryland to inform motorists that I-95 near Baltimore was closed and offer alternate routes.”

Emergency Transportation Operations: Stakeholders, Functions and Automated Tools reported that during the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City, “using its virtual communications system, the Transportation Operations Coordinating Committee, which serves as the incident information coordinator for the entire northeast corridor of the I-95 Corridor Coalition, was able to alert I-95 Corridor member agencies of problems in the New York City region. These agencies, in turn, used highway advisory radio, and variable message signs on I-95 as far south as Delaware and as far north as New Haven to instruct traffic to avoid the New York City region.”

OREIS – Chemical spills and derailments occur frequently. In Graniteville, South Carolina, a train recently derailed spilling chlorine gas that required the evacuation of part of the town. The Columbus Dispatch article “Rails Bring Danger to Town, But Threat Hard to Quantify,” reported: “The Columbus Division of Fire is equipped with an Operation Respond Emergency Information System, a computer system that allows local responders in an emergency to see a railroad company’s cargo list and identify hazardous materials by container number, trailer number and carrier name.”

According to the Operation Respond® Institute Web site, the system mentioned in the Columbus Dispatch is the OREIS™ software, “which provides real-time HazMat contents of railcars and trucks that have been in an incident. OREIS is a software program that provides first responders with time and lifesaving real-time information about hazardous materials and passenger railroad incidents. OREIS transmits real-time information about the hazardous materials contents of freight railcars and motor carriers and schematics for passenger railcars and locomotives.”

According to the Web site, in September 2004, Operation Respond Institute, Inc. teamed with Qualcomm to “integrate its OREIS emergency response software with Qualcomm’s OmniTRACS satellite-based mobile communications and position location system to demonstrate the ability to track the movement and contents of vehicles as they travel the highways, and provide this information to first responders in the case of an incident or security breach. Operation Respond has partnered with Emergency Services Information Network (ESINC) to allow emergency responders to quickly and accurately receive information about the presence of hazardous materials, and respond accordingly. ESINC is an electronic network of OREIS users who receive emergency messages and alerts via fax, cell phone, pager and email.”

Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) – Cell phone technology, at times, may prove problematic. According to Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: August 2003 Northeast Blackout Great Lakes Region, during the Great Lakes Region blackout in 2003, “in some instances, older technology worked while new technology did not. The most dramatic example of this is the plain old telephone system (POTS) that for the most part functioned throughout the blackout. In comparison, cell phones, networked phone systems, and portable phones experienced varying degrees of failures due to the loss of electricity or ceased working when limited backup power was exhausted.”

According to Learning from the 2003 Blackout, the manager of electronics and communications at SMART in Detroit says, “The local phone carrier did fine in keeping analog services up and running, just as they have been doing since my grand-father’s day. The digital service didn’t die immediately, but did 12 to 14 hours into the event, as the in-circuit devices between the central phone office and customers’ offices lost power.”

Pre-Notice Evacuation Notices – Wildfires typically are a no-notice evacuation situation; however, residents may have a small amount of time before evacuating. To assist in the eventual evacuation, the emergency management organization may issue a pre-evacuation order informing residents of the possible need to evacuate. According to the Seattle Post Intelligence article “Evacuation Notice Lifted for Some Tiny Oregon Towns,” during the Biscuit wildfire in Oregon during 2002, a pre-notice evacuation notice was issued “warning people to pack and be ready to leave if the fire got closer to their homes.”

Public Education Campaigns – The public can be informed through public education campaigns of evacuations incidents and the need to evacuate. For example, Flood Warnings: Recent Lessons Learned and Developments Under Way reported that in New South Wales, “working within the constraints of a limited budget, the State Emergency Service has been building on past experience to mount community education campaigns in conjunction with local government councils and other stakeholder organizations. This year (2002) the State Emergency Service has been involved in flood awareness weeks to capitalize on the first anniversary of last year’s floods on the north coast of New South Wales (Lismore, Kempsey, Bellingen, Grafton, Maclean and the villages and rural areas between them).”

Flood Warnings also reported: “The flood awareness week messages went out via newspaper articles and advertisements (usually in the form of special ‘flood supplements’ in the local press), in pre-recorded radio spots, interviews and talk-back sessions, through public displays and information stands, and through information brochures that the State Emergency Service call FloodSafe guides. These guides are tailored to small areas. For example, the State Emergency Service produced six separate brochures for specific communities in the Macleay valley, seven for communities along the Clarence, three for the Bellinger River valley and five for Lismore.”

Public Information Campaigns – The public can also be informed of evacuation information via a public information campaign. According to What Can I Do to Prepare for a Radiological Emergency? persons living within the vicinity (10 miles) of a nuclear power plant “receive emergency information materials annually. This information is commonly distributed via phone books, calendars, brochures, utility bills, and so forth. These materials contain educational information on radiation, instructions for evacuation and sheltering, special arrangements for the handicapped, and contacts for additional information. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission advises citizens to become familiar with this information and store it where it can be easily retrieved if needed.”

Public Meetings – Public education campaigns also include public meetings with various citizen groups or homeowners. For example, the article “Evacuation Right Call, Say Local Leaders” reported: “Pinellas County Administrator Steve Spratt said too many mobile home residents refused to go [during hurricane evacuations], some saying they wouldn’t leave their possessions and others saying they had ridden out storms before. To try to overcome residents’ reluctance to leave, Spratt plans to hold meetings at Pinellas mobile home parks to illustrate how Charley flattened similar neighborhoods in its path.”

According to the Compendium: Graduate Student Papers on Advanced Surface Transportation Systems: Application of ITS Technology to Hurricane Evacuation Routes, in Galveston, Texas, “lectures are conducted at schools, the University of Texas Medical Branch (the island’s largest employer), other large employers, and at other functions.”

Public Radio Stations – Public radio stations also have been used to provide information to evacuees. The TR News article “Emergency Evacuation: Ensuring Safe and Efficient Transportation Out of Endangered Areas” reported: “Emergency officials in Florida now also have agreements with the state’s network of public radio stations to broadcast traffic and shelter information during evacuations.”

Radio-Satellite Communication – Radio communication has traditionally been used to communicate among emergency management officials. While cell phones have proven useful in communicating among personnel, at times, radios and satellite communication is a fallback technology. According to Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: Cross-Cutting Study, “During a previous disaster, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco, transportation officials found that cell phones proved to be invaluable as radio communications were damaged. As a result, California officials came to rely more on cell phone technology over radio. But because of the location of the Northridge earthquake, cell phone communications in the canyon areas was intermittent due to terrain and limited coverage and the California Department of Transportation has now also incorporated satellite and radio communications to its system.”

However, radio systems can be incompatible among emergency management officials. The San Bernardino County Fire Chiefs’ Association: Lessons Learned Report: Fire Storm 2003: “Old Fire” reported: “One of the largest problems encountered on the Old Fire (southern California wildfires) was the incompatible communications systems. Most California municipal and county fire departments use an 800 MHz radio communication system, which is incompatible with the state and federal forest service UHF or VHF communications system.”

The Lessons Learned Report also reported: “Radio communication problems caused major coordination problems between cooperating agencies, command and tactical units, air and ground units, as well as engine companies on the same strike team. Firefighter safety was placed in unnecessary risk when engine companies became temporarily unaccounted for and were unable to communicate their status.” In addition, the Southern California Firestorm 2003: Report for the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center reported: “In one case, respondents reported the lack of communication system interoperability (during the southern California wildfires) contributed to two structure protection groups being created and tasked with staging and deploying resources as the fire entered a city, even though neither group was aware of the other’s existence.”

The Southern California Firestorm 2003 also reported: “Many units have created workarounds that prove adequate for one incident. For example, some Battalion Chiefs carry one to six handheld radios compatible with cooperating agency frequencies. However, this workaround had limitations. During a series of disasters, as was the case in Southern California, the result was that both systems became so overwhelmed with radio traffic that it was impossible to monitor all traffic back and forth. As a result, respondents said that people tended to default back to their own frequencies, degrading common tactical and command communications.”

Reverse 911® – Reverse 911® is a communication system that can be used during an evacuation incident. For example, the American City and County article “Community Evacuation: Ensuring Safe Passage” reported: “Both Denver and New Orleans have Reverse 9-1-1 capabilities, allowing them to call thousands of residents at once with recorded messages. However, [Terry] Tullier [Deputy Chief of the New Orleans Fire Department and Interim Director for the City’s Office of Emergency Preparedness] notes that Reverse 9-1-1 does have drawbacks; its success depends on the availability of phone lines and the residents' willingness to answer their phones.”

Reverse 911® has the capability to communicate warnings to a large number of people. The 2004 Annual Hazards Research and Applications Workshop: Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado, Boulder, presentation “Transportation and Evacuation Issues in Emergencies: S04-3” reported: “Reverse 911® is tailored to communicate a warning message to as many as 11,000 telephones in 30 seconds” and can be targeted “to citizens directly impacted by the hazard and allows an alert to be communicated at hours when individuals may have turned off traditional mass media.”

According to the Northwest Florida Hurricane Evacuation Study Technical Data Report,in “Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties an automated telephone notification system was used to phone thousands of households in the surge-prone areas. A few people in other counties (mainly special needs populations) might have received evacuation notices by phone from emergency management officials.”

However, Reverse 911® systems are not foolproof and can lead to confusion. As reported in the Orlando Sentinel article “14,000 Warned to Stay in During Volusia 911 Goof,” “A high-tech ‘Reverse 911®’ telephone system warned more than 14,000 residents Thursday morning to stay indoors because of a ‘small chlorine leak’ at a city water plant. The warning prompted a flurry of 911 calls and briefly sparked fears of a terrorist attack. The problem was, only about 100 homes in a three-block radius around the Ormond Beach plant should have gotten the warning about the accidental chlorine leak, which was quickly contained. Dave Byron, a Volusia County spokesman, said the Code Red emergency notification system worked the way it was supposed to. Thousands of extra phone calls—20,621 phone numbers were dialed, and 14,600 calls were likely the result of human error, he said. ‘We’re still trying to figure out exactly what happened, but at this time it does not appear to be a system problem,’ Byron said.” Technology can assist in notifying people of the need to evacuate, but human error can impact the use of the technology.

Satellite Traffic Communication – A new communication system is the receipt of traffic information by satellite radio informing drivers of evacuation routes. The ITS International News article “Real-Time XM Satellite Traffic Powered by Navteq” reported: “Starting this month, Cadillac will begin offering XM NavTraffic, claimed to be the first real-time satellite traffic information service for vehicle navigation systems in the US First available on the Cadillac CTS, the XM NavTraffic system will provide continuously-updated traffic information in a selected city. The system will come standard in cars equipped with the DVD navigation feature. This new technology, offered exclusively by XM Satellite Radio, is fully integrated with the vehicle's on-board global positioning software navigation system to display current information about traffic incidents and average traffic speed along specific roadways. A driver can enter a destination into the navigation system, and then, aided by a colourcoded display, obtain instant traffic data on the preferred route. XM NavTraffic is powered by Navteq Traffic, which checks and aggregates planned and unplanned incident data from multiple sources across the US, including the leading commercial traffic data providers, government departments of transportation, police and emergency services, road sensors, cameras, and airborne reports. Once received, the information is then merged with Navteq maps and continuously broadcast via XM’s network of satellites and ground-based repeaters, ensuring that the latest information is available to the driver.”

Beginning November 2005, “Navteq and Sirius Satellite Radio will broadcast traffic data for 22 major US metropolitan areas. Navteq Traffic is a data gathering, aggregation, and quality-tested solution that links up-to-the minute traffic information to map data and enables wireless transmission directly to a navigation system. It combines data from multiple sources, including the leading commercial traffic data providers, government departments of transportation, police and emergency services, road sensors, cameras and airborne reports.”

Short Message Service – “Short message service (SMS) is a globally accepted wireless service that enables the transmission of alphanumeric messages between mobile subscribers and external systems such as electronic mail, paging and voice mail systems,” as reported on the Flextronics Software Systems Web site.

The Dutch government is testing a mobile phone danger alert system that sends text messages to people who could be affected by natural disasters or terrorist attacks. The system, called Cell Broadcast, uses GSM technology to identify cell phone users in a particular area. If a disaster occurs, a message is sent to all phones in the area, warning of the danger. Interior ministry spokesman Frank van Beers told CNN that if successful, the 2-year pilot would become common policy throughout the country. He said the Cell Broadcast system will be used in addition to the other warning systems that are currently used if disaster strikes, such as sirens and special emergency broadcasts on radio and television.

“This is a more instantaneous way of informing people about what is going on right now. It’s an extra medium to communicate directly with people during a disaster,” he said. “If something happens in the center of The Hague, for example, we can select communication points from telecom companies and everyone who is within a few 100 meters can get the information.”

Other scenarios could include terrorist attacks, fires, explosions, and leaks of toxic substances. "If there was a toxic leak, we could tell people to stay inside." Van Beers said only those in the area would receive the warning. "When you are out of the Hague, if that is where the disaster is, you don't get that information. The government is also investigating sending out the messages in different languages, so that tourists can also be informed, Van Beers said,” as reported in the article “Dutch trial SMS Disaster Alert System”.

Sirens – Sirens can be used to inform people of the need to evacuate. According to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Nuclear Facility Response Plans, people living near nuclear power plants “will be notified by means of sirens, tone-alert radios, and similar alert mechanisms” in the event of a nuclear incident.

Software Tools for Providing Information to the General Public – According to the ICDN Newsletter article “Interactive Web Site to Aid Travelers During Marquette Interchange Project,” the State of Wisconsin was reconstructing a major intersection and used software tools that could assist drivers in navigating the construction site: “The Wisconsin Department of Transportation launched as a key component of the department’s efforts to inform the public and assist drivers during the four-year reconstruction of the Marquette Interchange. Interactive features available on the site include: Map-It Routing an interactive mapping tool allows drivers to map their route into and out of downtown Milwaukee by choosing either a downtown destination or entering a downtown address and TrafficBug™ which sends traffic alerts directly to a person’s computer.”

The State of Georgia utilizes a program called NaviGAtor. A part of this tool is Navigator Traffic Alerts. The Intelligent Transportation Society of America: News of the Week article “My NaviGAtor Traffic Alerts Literally at Your Fingertips” reported: “‘Navigator Traffic Alerts are designed to get real-time traffic information into the hands of as many motorists as possible,’ [Mary] Peters [of the Federal Highway Administration] said. ‘Now motorists can have traffic information delivered directly to them at the times of their choosing, via cell phone, PDA, pager, or computer. All you need is an e-mail address.’ The Navigator Traffic Alerts service provides user-customized e-mail notification of traffic incidents. This unique system offers a comprehensive approach to getting the information to the customer wherever they may be—at home, at the office or on the road. A wireless version of the Navigator Web site reaches Georgia motorists while they’re on the go. Plasma display screens have been placed in Welcome Centers to reach out-of-state motorists as they pass through the state.”

According to the Intelligent Transportation Society of America: News of the Week article “Yahoo! Maps Provides Real-Time Traffic Solution,” Yahoo announced “the launch of a service that lets consumers view live local traffic information on their online maps and driving directions. Yahoo! is the first online site to provide speed conditions and dynamic traffic information nationwide. The new mapping feature will initially be integrated in Yahoo! Search, Yahoo! Local, and Yahoo! Maps—and is available to consumers at With this new mapping service, consumers can now—customize their Yahoo! Maps display and layer traffic information on top of driving directions or maps, scroll over the traffic icons—an extension of Yahoo’s SmartView technology—to find out the road conditions on their journey ahead including the time the incident occurred and the estimated time that it will be resolved, find traffic accident reports and road construction information in over 70 metropolitan areas, find real-time driving speed data in over 20 top metropolitan areas, pan and zoom to find the traffic information most relevant to them, provide the best way to reach their destinations by incorporating reliable information from embedded road sensors, traffic cameras, police scanners/reports, and traffic helicopters.”

Text Messaging – Cellular subscribers can receive comprehensive traffic management information using text messaging from Orion Information Services. Orion is offering this service in conjunction with TrafficCast. As reported in the Orion Information Services press release, “it is the only true national network that provides personalized, route-specific, real-time and predictive speed and travel time information. Unlike its competitors, it is offering monitors traffic flows on all routes in major US cities, predicts traveling times, and factors in the effects that local weather patterns and special events will have on transit times.”

Traffic Counters – Traffic counters are used in the State of Florida to gather data on hurricane evacuees in order to better manage the evacuation. The Federal Highway Administration Transportation Evacuation Planning and Operations Workshops 2004 presentation “Evacuating Florida in 2004” reported: “The traffic counters alerts host counties and communities upstream of evacuating areas to the arrival time and numbers of potential evacuees on roadways and shelters and provides public information to inform evacuees and others of areas experiencing traffic congestion, monitor(s) the actual status of evacuations relative to predicted clearance times. [The traffic counters] supports evacuation shutdown planning; determining when to divert traffic or shut down interstate interchanges based on: average vehicle speed at the sensor and the time needed to clear predicted vehicle queues before the arrival time of tropical storm force winds.”

Video Feed – Video information provides traffic information in a very graphic way, with little need to explain. According to Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: Cross-Cutting Study, “The Interregion Video Network operated by the Transportation Operations Coordinating Committee allows 13 traffic management centers in the New York region to share video feeds of its network. This allows other agencies to better understand what is happening outside of its purview, but that might have a significant impact on its operations. This system is available on a more limited basis to the general public through the MetroCommute Web site, giving motorists real-time information through the web.”

Web Sites – Some cities place emergency information on public Web sites. The American City and County article “Community Evacuation: Ensuring Safe Passage” reported: “For example, Denver, Grand Forks and New Orleans all place emergency advisories on their Web sites, but they do not rely heavily on online transmissions, reasoning that many people do not own computers.”

The Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District in California posts wildfire preparedness and evacuation information on its Web site. It also has a brochure entitled Getting Out Alive: Preparing for and Protecting Yourself During a Wildfire Evacuation, which offers tips to help residents prepare for evacuation to ensure their family and pets make a safe escape from wildfire.

Wireless Traffic Sensor Network – The Maryland State Highway Administration signed an agreement with (traffic data collection and reporting firm) to construct a network of wireless roadside traffic sensors. According to the ITS America article “Maryland Signs to Construct Wireless Traffic Sensor Network in Maryland,” “The completion of this project will provide with sensor coverage from north of Baltimore in Maryland to south of Washington, D.C. in Virginia, including the stretch of Interstate 95 that connects the two Beltways. The new sensors will provide vehicle speed, congestion levels, and travel times to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. based operations centers staffed and managed by, which distribute reports and incident/event information to’s broadcast media affiliates, commercial customers, and to the public through its Web site at currently provides vital traffic information to Baltimore Beltway-area drivers through several media affiliates including TV stations … and to radio listeners,” and also through AM radio stations.

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