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 no-notice evacuation occurred in El Dorado, Arkansas in 2005 as a result of a hazardous-material fire that had erupted in a hazardous waste storage and treatment facility. A county jail located near the facility implemented an emergency evacuation of all of the prisoners (and staff) to public shelters in a safe zone. This example of a no-notice evacuation highlights some of the issues that are involved in the evacuation of special needs populations including prisoners. Key lessons learned are:
- Ensure that the procedures for the evacuation and re-entry plan are in written form and readily available to staff. Having been aware that the proximity of the jail to the hazardous material plant presented a risk, the Sheriff of the County Jail had "thought of" an evacuation plan prior to the emergency which he communicated to the Chief Deputy and the Jail Administrator. In this case, lacking written procedures did not hinder the evacuation; nonetheless, best practices dictate that the evacuation and re-entry plans be in written form so that they are accessible. The plan should include information about the location of resources such as buses and up-to-date contact information for related agencies (department of transportation, Red Cross, ambulances and fire department).
- Select evacuation routes that are appropriate for the population. The Sheriff of the County Jail selected an evacuation route for the transport of prisoners that consisted of state road, as opposed to county roads, because of his evaluation that the state roads could be secured. For example, the wider shoulders on state roads and the multi-lane facilities allow buses to pass stalled vehicles (or debris), and they also provide room for police escort. The state roads also increase mobility by allowing the buses to travel at faster speeds than is possible on local roads.
- Implement a staffing schedule so that at least one person with knowledge of the evacuation plan, and authority and means is on duty. The Sheriff of the County Jail shared his evacuation plan with two other members of the staff (the Chief Deputy and the Jail Administrator) and implemented a schedule so that one of these individuals was on-duty; the schedule precluded all three of the knowledgeable staff members from being off-duty at the same time.
The successful evacuation of 170 prisoners from a county jail in El Dorado in a no-notice emergency demonstrates the importance of having managers who have knowledge of and have access to transportation resources within the community. For example, the sheriff of the county jail had prepared (at least mentally) for an evacuation because of his long-standing concern about the risk associated with the jail’s proximity to a plant with hazardous material. He communicated the evacuation plan with the staff responsible and ensured that at no times would there be a person on-duty who was not aware of the plan. The success of this evacuation reinforces the need for each facility to have an evacuation plan that includes procedures for acquiring the means to transport the population as well as information in regards to the evacuation route (i.e., roads) that are appropriate for the population. The transport of prisoners requires conditions that allow security provided by police escort, particularly in the case of transport breakdown. The lessons learned from the Arkansas’ experiences presented above are expected to ensure safety and security of transporting people with special needs, such as prisoners, during no-notice evacuations.