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

7.6 Identification of Evacuation Routes

Evacuees fleeing an incident need information as to the fastest and shortest route to take to flee. While people may be familiar with local streets around their homes or work locations, they may be unfamiliar with the larger street network in their community. Having information on routes to take could be invaluable.

511 – A tool currently available to over a quarter of the population is 511 service. The 511 service is an Internet/phone service that provides information to travelers, including traffic and transit information. 511 can assist drivers in selecting routes during an incident.

According to the Implementation and Operational Guidelines for 511 Services, the “Virginia Department of Transportation 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 Transportation Research Board’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Program: 2005 Update reported: “As of November 2004, 511 is available to 77 million Americans—26 percent of the US population. In 2005, the 511 Coalition activities to focus on targeted metropolitan areas and E911 ‘calls’ from any communication or networked devices.”

Automated Calling System to Emergency Planners – The State of California has an automated calling system that alerts local emergency planners; however, the system did not work as intended in June 14, 2005 when it failed to alert some people about a tsunami off the west coast. The system is intended to alert emergency planners who in turn alert the public to the need to evacuate.

Cell Phone and Local Authorities – 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.”

Cell phones with video capabilities also have the potential to assist the authorities during times of emergencies. During the London bombing of 2005, a passenger recorded a video image of the incident. While this may not assist authorities during the incident, it may help afterwards when analyzing the incident.

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 the type of incident, this mapping should alert authorities to potential incidents or events that generate cell phone usage.

Cell Phone Television Screen – A future tool is a cell phone that can receive evacuation orders and information, such as evacuation routes to be used or areas to avoid during an evacuation.

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.”

CLEER (Catastrophic Level Event and Emergency Response) – A future software tool may be available for local authorities allowing for a visual display of disaster events as they unfold. The CLEER program should be able to provide “police and fire officials a real-time graphic display of an unfolding disaster,” thus assisting in the identification of evacuation routes as reported in the London Free Press article “Software Firm Can Model Disasters.”

eCall – This tool is an automatic emergency call system using global positioning software to identify vehicles. It can be used to assist evacuees fleeing an incident who may be involved in accidents along the way. These accidents have the potential to impact evacuation routes and create additional congestion. Knowing the location of the accidents could be beneficial to government officials.

In Europe, all new cars are to have the eCall systems installed by 2009. According to the article “EU to Use New Emergency Call System,” eCall would report “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.”

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Tags – A tool currently being deployed by the Orlando/Orange County Expressway Authority is using a RFID-based traffic monitoring system for vehicle transponders to create an average trip time and then disseminating the information to the public.

According to the RFID Journal article “RFID Drives Highway Traffic Reports,” “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.”

The traffic information could assist an evacuation situation by providing drivers with traffic and route information.

Real-Time Traffic Information by Cell Phone – 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 show driving speed. The maps also display icons to indicate the location of accidents, construction, and other commute killers. You can click the icons, using the keypad on your phone, to get details of why you're stuck 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.

Satellite Traffic Communication – A tool currently available is the receipt of traffic conditions by satellite radio. General Motors is offering satellite traffic information to drivers. The ITS International News article “Real-Time XM Satellite Traffic Powered by NAVTEC” reported: “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. 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.” In addition, beginning November 2005, “NAVTEC and Sirius Satellite Radio will broadcast traffic data for 22 major US metropolitan areas.”

Short Message Service – Short message service systems allow for cell phone users to receive messages such as text messages, electronic mail, pages, and voice mail to alert them of potential dangers. The Dutch government is testing a mobile phone alert system that sends text messages to cell phone users of potential incidents and targets cell phone users in a particular area impacted by the incident.

Text Messaging: Orion Information Services – A tool available nationwide is text messaging. In conjunction with TrafficCast, Orion Information Services is offering a comprehensive traffic management system that uses text messaging.

As reported in the Orion Information Services press release, “it is the first comprehensive traffic management system available using text messaging. Orion is offering this service in conjunction with TrafficCast ( and 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] 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.”

This service may have the ability to communicate to evacuees in real time regarding routes and traffic on the routes. It may also be useful to emergency planners to adjust evacuation routes in real time.

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.

These tools provide information to motorists that could be useful during an evacuation. However, the use of text messaging or information by cell phone needs to be tempered with the knowledge that cell lines may be unavailable due to an overloading of the phone lines.

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