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.
Emergency evacuations most frequently occur on a local level and are managed by one jurisdiction. Larger scale evacuations, which occur less frequently, can impact neighboring communities and involve multiple partners. In either case, evacuation operations will utilize the highway network. To be prepared for local or regional evacuations, regional partners should use a common evacuation Concept of Operations (CONOPS) that laid the foundation for conducting emergency evacuations by identifying stakeholder roles and responsibilities. The CONOPS should address how the partners would conduct and manage transportation operations. The FHWA primer on using highways for evacuation operations addresses this issue and advances the following best practices:
- In developing a common CONOPS for evacuation operations, integrate traffic management into all phases of the evacuation. The highway network is the most commonly used means to evacuate the population from harm's way. It is also used in all phases of evacuation operations, including transporting emergency responders to an incident, moving resources (such as medical supplies or firefighting equipment) and returning evacuees during re-entry operations. Therefore, traffic management and highway operations are integral to evacuation CONOPS, and transportation officials with the appropriate authorities are among its key stakeholders.
- Even if a CONOPS is for a local evacuation, coordinate with neighboring jurisdictions. An evacuation CONOPS is developed by local authorities to meet the needs of its community. However, evacuations could impact or even require assistance from neighboring jurisdictions. In addition, evacuations involve the highway system, a resource that is shared among neighboring communities. To obtain support from other jurisdictions and to coordinate the management of the highway network, it is necessary for emergency management to share their local evacuation CONOPS with neighboring communities. Sharing a local CONOPS will clarify the roles and responsibilities of different agencies and improve the ability of emergency responders from neighboring jurisdictions to coordinate their emergency response.
- In the CONOPS, establish agreements for supplemental support from neighboring jurisdictions. Emergency events do not confine themselves neatly within jurisdictional boundaries, and can have an impact across communities. Indeed, evacuees fleeing from harm's way (e.g., from an approaching hurricane) may require shelter in neighboring towns, counties or states. Thus, a CONOPS for local evacuations that focuses on the local response must also address the potential demands of a larger scale evacuation and establish support agreements with neighboring jurisdictions and regional partners on responding to incidents (e.g., fighting a wildfire), providing shelter for evacuees, and conducting highway operations in the evacuation. Similarly, supplemental support agreements among neighboring highway agencies are necessary to facilitate the re-entry of evacuees.
The highway network is an integral factor in evacuation operations and a resource that is shared among neighboring jurisdictions. Using a common CONOPS that integrates the highway network in all phases of the evacuation and establishes agreements for supplemental support will improve the efficiency of and mobility in highway operations during emergency evacuations.