Using Highways During Evacuation Operations for Events with Advance Notice: Routes to Effective Evacuation Planning Primer Series
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.
The transportation sector has a rich inventory of tools, resources and expertise in traffic management. Noting the significant improvements transportation agencies have made in managing the transportation network over the past two decades, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has undertaken an effort to extend these improvements to the management of emergency evacuations. In emergencies in which the jurisdiction has received some advance notice (as is the case with hurricanes), the transportation community can provide logistic and operational support in the evacuation of people out of harm’s way safely. The FHWA primer discusses best practices and lessons learned from a transportation perspective. Several of the primer’s key lessons learned are as follows:
- Include transportation officials as key stakeholders in the planning and preparedness processes of evacuations operations. By including transportation agencies and addressing transportation issues in the planning process, emergency response managers will be strongly positioned to leverage the transportation sector in emergency evacuations. Transportation officials from state and local departments of transportation (DOTs) and/or Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) can provide support in nearly every aspect of the transportation-related aspects of the evacuation and therefore should be part of the planning and implementation team. Transportation officials can guide the selection of evacuation routes, activate highway information systems such as variable message signs and highway advisory radios, coordinate management activities and communication with traffic management centers (TMCs), and support law enforcement in the response to traffic incidents. In addition, transportation agencies that collect and analyze traffic data in real-time can help emergency response managers evaluate evacuation routes, identify problems as they arise and develop alternate routes if needed.
The need to include transportation agencies in emergency planning appears self-evident. Nonetheless, emergency management plans at the state, local and regional levels have not fully integrated transportation agencies. For example:
- Fewer than 50 percent of current emergency plans have details on media coordination or traveler information.
- Only 10 percent of current plans address the coordination between transportation and the Emergency Operations Center.
- Fewer than 50 percent of plans specify evacuation routes.
- Just two-thirds of the State and one-third of the municipal plans include transportation contacts.
- Most plans do not incorporate Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) into the emergency response.
- Send a representative from the involved transportation agency to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) when an evacuation order is issued. Having a representative from the transportation sector at the EOC during an evacuation enhances the ability of the transportation officials with appropriate authorities to direct transportation activities (for example, suspending tolls and commencing contraflow operations), activate the use of highway tools (such as variable message signs), obtain data (such as traffic counts and congestion status) and activate transit resource for the evacuation of special needs populations. The FHWA primer also recommends that an electronic link from the TMC to the EOC be established to enable staff from each team to view the same information in real-time.
- Include representatives from the transportation sector on the Evacuation Operations Team (EOT). The EOT is comprised of emergency response personnel from different disciplines. Staff from the transportation sector can support the EOT by directing resources and equipment to the scene of traffic incidents that occur during the evacuation. This function facilitates the evacuation by removing disabled vehicles and clearing the scene of traffic crashes. Other transportation-related groups that could support the EOT include traffic incident management (TIM) and road maintenance crews.
- Utilize private sector groups in the transportation community to facilitate evacuation operations. The transportation community includes stakeholders in the private sector such as transportation companies and private volunteer organizations. The ability of emergency response managers to tap into the resources of these groups is strengthened when they are included in the planning process. State and local DOTs have access to private sector companies and volunteer agencies and can activate their support through existing or emergency contracts.
- Examples of private sector resources include:
- Highway contractors who can secure work zones
- Bus companies that can provide transportation for special need individuals (such as nursing home residents)
- Traffic control contractors who can set up variable message signs (VMS), arrow boards, traffic signs and signals, etc., to direct motorists and guide the evacuation
- Towing industry that can remove disabled vehicles from the evacuation routes
- Trucking industry that can deliver supplies and equipment
- Service patrols that can provide motorist assistance along the evacuation route
A key element in a safe and efficient emergency evacuation is traffic management. Therefore, it is highly important to include the transportation sector in the planning and preparedness process for emergency evacuations. The transportation community should be fully integrated with emergency response planning and response agents so that evacuation orders can be implemented as safely and efficiently as possible.