We Need to Get Evacuations Right
Hurricane Katrina hit a year ago this month, but we're still not where we need to be on the planning front, say DOT and DHS.
- By Jerry Laws
- Aug 01, 2006
MORE planning is needed to accommodate special needs populations
in a major hurricane evacuation, according to a recent report to
Congress by DOT and DHS that examined preparedness for such a mass
evacuation. The full report, available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/reports/hurricanevacuation/,
is much broader in scope and indicates evacuation of all coastal
residents, not just disabled ones, is not yet adequately planned
despite the problems encountered during 2005's hurricanes.
The report's Public Communication and Preparedness section asserts
that many state and local plans do not contain adequate provisions for
informing residents and visitors about who has to evacuate, when, and
why. "Insufficient information is often given for people to understand
the differences between hurricane watches and warnings, voluntary and
mandatory evacuations, and other facts that people need to make better
decisions on whether and when to evacuate," it says, adding that during an evacuation, evacuees typically don't have access to the
Internet or TV, yet these are two of the primary means of providing
pre-evacuation information. Systems to provide information to evacuees
and emergency managers during the course of evacuations on the status
of traffic, shelters, fuel, and other services along evacuation routes
"should be improved and deployed," the agencies recommend.
Current evacuation plans often define "special needs" populations
too narrowly to address everyone who needs transportation during an
evacuation, DOT and DHS concluded. Some plans include only people in
institutions as having special needs and do not include people with
special needs who live independently, even though they require
assistance to evacuate. Also, major institutions such as prisons and
hospitals are responsible for evacuating their facilities, but their
evacuation plans often aren't coordinated with the emergency management
All is not lost: DOT said it is preparing a primer on evacuating
various special needs populations that will include essential
information and technical assistance for state and local agencies and
others responsible for evacuating and sheltering people with various
special needs. DOT also is working with the American Red Cross and the
Humane Society of the United States on major evacuation issues and with
DHS on a comprehensive search and rescue plan that integrates rescue
missions with transportation and evacuation.
This column appeared in the August 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
This article originally appeared in the August 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.