Utilize ITS technologies to improve highway efficiency in emergency evacuations with advance notice.

Experience nationwide in the successful use of the transportation network in emergency evacuations with advance notice.

Date Posted

Using Highways During Evacuation Operations for Events with Advance Notice: Routes to Effective Evacuation Planning Primer Series

Summary Information

Transportation networks provide a key service during emergency evacuations. Transportation operations significantly determine the safety and efficiency with which evacuations are implemented. Although there may be multiple modes of travel involved in evacuating populations, the most frequently and heavily used are highways and secondary roads. A basic approach to strengthening the service of the transportation network in emergency evacuations is to involve the transportation community in the planning process. Fully linking the transportation sector with emergency management in all phases of preparedness will enhance the ability of the transportation sector to support emergency evacuations. Thus, the state and local agencies responsible for emergency evacuations have an interest involving the transportation sector in the development of emergency plans as well as their implementation.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has produced a primer for emergency response managers and transportation officials entitled "Using Highways during Evacuation Operations for Events with Advance Notice." The primer serves as a guide for local and state planners on the lessons learned and best practices for maximizing the use of the highway network in emergency evacuations. A fundamental step recommended by the FHWA primer is to involve transportation subject matter experts and those with appropriate authorities in the evacuation planning process. In addition to lessons learned, the FHWA primer discusses transportation resources including ITS tools, traffic operations and incident management that can support emergency evacuations.

Lessons Learned

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) improves the efficiency of the transportation network in emergency evacuations by optimizing traffic flow and providing real-time, accurate information to evacuees in transit. By planning ahead, jurisdictions with ITS can anticipate the best way to use their ITS equipment in their emergency response. Listed below are ITS technologies and ideas about their use in evacuation operations.

  • Use Variable Message Signs (VMS) to inform evacuees en route about travel times, location of traffic incidents, alternate routes and shelter locations. VMS fill a niche in the traveler information system by communicating with motorists who are en route who may not have access to other sources of information (such as the internet, telephone or television). VMS can be pre-programmed or programmed in real-time.
  • Use Traveler Information-Dial 511 to provide local information on road conditions, evacuation routes and weather updates. As of February, 2008, Dial 511 is accessible by 47% of the U.S. population, and it is expected to reach 70% of the population by 2009. Many states have deployed comprehensive 511 web sites with detailed information on travel conditions including interactive maps, live camera coverage of roadways and incident location. Some states include a separate hotline for emergency information specific to their location. For example, the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) has a hotline on hurricane shelters for Tampa, and the Southeast and Central regions.
  • Use Advanced Traveler Information Systems (ATIS) to provide traveler information to motorists who have in-vehicle route guidance devices. ATIS provides real-time information to drivers that is distilled from traffic data collected by a transportation management center (TMC). A resource for further information on using ATIS in emergencies is FHWA’s publication entitled, “Communicating with the Public Using ATIS during Disasters – Concept of Operations.”
  • Use Highway Advisory Radio (HAR) to broadcast emergency information to motorists in a specific location. Although the broadcast range of HAR is limited to within one to six miles of the transmitter, it provides the advantage of targeting detailed information to motorists in a specific location. To be prepared for emergencies, emergency management should keep a map of the location of HAR assets (i.e., signs and broadcast towers) for communicating to motorists as well as for assessing damage to HAR assets. Following an emergency, it is valuable to review HAR coverage and performance. For example, the Florida DOT identified 13 new areas for HAR deployment following the 2005 hurricane season.
  • Partner with commercial providers to broadcast information to subscribers. There are an increasing number of private companies that broadcast traveler information to subscribers. An example is the private vendor NAVTEQ, who conducts around-the-clock traffic alert monitoring and broadcasts emergency information to subscribers. Partnerships with commercial providers of these services can increase the reach of emergency information.
  • Install a redundant power source for ITS systems. Experience from previous disasters demonstrates the importance of having a redundant power source for ITS systems in emergencies.
  • Set up a video feed between the Traffic Management Center (TMC) and Emergency Operations Center (EOC). For jurisdictions in which the TMC is at a different location from the EOC, sharing a video feed should improve situational awareness and communications between the centers. Cities with TMCs and EOCs that have a shared camera video feed include Houston, Austin, Baltimore and Atlanta.
  • Employ camera systems to monitor traffic speed and traffic flows. Closed circuit television (CCTV) provides an advantage over loop detection because it allows direct visual confirmation of traffic and weather conditions. This feature is useful for sharing information between emergency centers (e.g., between an EOC and a TMC). A disadvantage is that most CCTVs use direct power connections, which are vulnerable to disruption in emergencies. However, newer CCTVs with solar power, battery backup and wireless capability are increasingly available. For example, Des Moines, Iowa installed a CCTV with ITS applications that uses solar power and battery backup.

The ITS resources listed above support normal operations but they provide significant value in emergencies. Planning how to use these resources in emergency evacuations will increase the efficiency of and mobility in the highway network during evacuation and re-entry operations.