Technical Memorandum For Federal Highway Administration on Case Studies: Assessment of the State of the Practice and State of the Art in Evacuation Transportation Management - Task 3
Jurisdictions are occasionally called upon in emergencies to implement an evacuation order with little or no advance notice. The transport of residents out of a hazard zone under no-notice evacuations is a complex and difficult undertaking that requires planning ahead of time and coordination among different agencies. The planning and managing of transportation operations during no-notice evacuations greatly determines the extent to which the evacuation is implemented safely and efficiently. Initially in an emergency, transportation operations are related to the capability of emergency personnel to respond to an incident rapidly and with the necessary equipment, thereby playing a role in the ability of the jurisdiction to control the incident and minimize the size of the evacuation. (Indeed, rapid, effective responses to an emergency may negate the need for an evacuation.) For the actual evacuation, transportation operations support the transport of individuals to a safe zone; on occasion an evacuation will include transporting special needs populations such as prisoners, hospital patients, nursing home residents, and even pets. Special needs groups require unique equipment (such as wheelchair accessible buses) and procedures. Lastly, when the incident is under control and conditions have returned to normal, transportation management is required for the safe and efficient re-entry of the population.
No-notice evacuations occur relatively frequently in the United States. No-notice evacuations can occur anytime and anywhere, and they range in size from water main breaks that require the evacuation of a street block, to toxic spills that affect neighborhoods, to wild fires that force entire cities to evacuate. Unlike weather-related events that are tracked days in advance (e.g. hurricanes), no-notice incidents are not easily predictable and they require jurisdictions to control the incident and implement evacuations. The 2006 report entitled "Assessment of State of the Practice and State of the Art in Evacuation Transportation Management" presents the case studies of four no-notice evacuations. The case studies include lessons learned on the planning and managing of transportation operations during evacuations as well as the transport of special needs populations, including prisoners and nursing home residents. Understanding how jurisdictions have responded to no-notice evacuations in the past allows us to draw lessons and identify best practices to be better prepared in the future.
A fire in a hazardous waste storage and treatment facility in El Dorado, Arkansas in 2005 led to the no-notice, emergency evacuation of nursing home residents in nursing homes located near to the facility. The experience of this successful evacuation reinforces best practices and highlights lessons learned, as presented below.
- Request wheelchair accessible buses as well as standard buses for the evacuation of a nursing home facility. Most of the residents from the nursing homes were transported by school buses to a public shelter, but the nursing homes had numerous non-ambulatory residents who used wheelchairs or who could not easily walk. Ambulances from the hospital were used to transport non-ambulatory residents. (A community volunteer used his truck to transport the wheelchairs to the shelter.) The initial call for buses overlooked the need for wheelchair accessible ones.
- Keep up-to-date information on the location and contact data for specialized equipment such as wheelchair accessible buses and small trucks. Not having access to wheelchair accessible buses or trucks directly, the nursing home staff and emergency personnel relied on community volunteers and local schools for vehicles. Evacuation plans should be kept current in regards to contact information for specialized equipment. A small truck was needed to transfer materials that could not easily be transported with buses, such as wheelchairs, linen and medicine carts.
- Practice evacuation drills at least once a year. One reason the evacuation in El Dorado of two nursing homes was successful was that nursing home staff conducted evacuation drills at least annually. The drills provided an opportunity for staff members to learn the procedures for evacuation and practice their assignments and roles. The evacuation of a nursing home facility has several aspects that require staff to coordinate with each other and conduct different types of tasks including helping residents leave the building and board the transport vehicles (buses or ambulances), contacting family members, packing and moving medicine and materials (wheelchairs, bedding, diapers, linen), and gathering food and toiletries.
- Select a public shelter that is appropriate for the population. The initial plan called for the residents to be moved to a public shelter at a municipal auditorium. However, the director, after having sent staff to evaluate the shelter, learned that the shelter did not have bathrooms on the same level as the sleep facilities or cooking facilities. The director requested that residents be transported to a church, which had cooking facilities and accessible bathrooms.
The experience of a successful evacuation of nursing home residents from two nursing homes in El Dorado in a no-notice evacuation demonstrates the importance of conducting evacuation drills, having written procedures in place, and knowing how to acquire specialized equipment including wheelchair accessible buses and ambulances as well as trucks. The lessons learned from the Arkansas’ experiences presented above are expected to ensure safety and security of transporting people with special needs, such as nursing home residents, during no-notice evacuations.