Chapter 5: Findings and Recommendations
In response to the Congressional request for a study of evacuation plans for the Gulf Coast region, the U.S. DOT conducted an assessment of 63 State, county, and parish evacuation plans and met with officials from each of the Gulf Coast States to discuss evacuation planning issues. The study was done in coordination with a broader nationwide study underway by DHS to review the emergency management plans for the States and the 75 major urban areas. Because of their vulnerabilities to hurricanes, jurisdictions in the Gulf Coast region have more experience with evacuations than other areas of the country, and in many respects their plans provide a benchmark for other States. However, there are areas in which the effectiveness of State and local plans in the Gulf Coast region could be improved to better address the requirements for mass evacuations. The U.S. DOT will use the information from this study as it moves forward in partnership with DHS and other Federal agencies and with State and local agencies to meet the challenges of evacuations from catastrophic incidents.
The intent of the study was not to rate individual plans or to recommend changes in individual plans. Rather, the objective was to assess the general strengths and weaknesses of plans across the region to serve as a basis for identifying the most significant needs for assistance in evacuation planning and how that assistance can most effectively be provided. Chapter IV details findings of the plan evaluations. This chapter summarizes those findings, discusses initiatives underway to address some of the weaknesses uncovered in the assessment, and recommends further actions to improve overall mass evacuation plans and capabilities.
Overall, there are three crosscutting issues and study findings that emerged from the study:
- Current evacuation guidance, plans and exercises do not adequately reflect requirements for Federal, State, and local coordination to effectively execute a mass evacuation from a catastrophic incident.
- Evacuation plans and operations focus primarily on evacuations by private vehicles and do not adequately address the use of other safe and practical modes that could be used to evacuate persons, especially those with special needs.
- Plans generally include provisions for communicating information on evacuation routes, what evacuees using personal vehicles should take with them, and where shelters are located; however, plans for communicating essential information to those who do not have access to an automobile and to those with other special needs generally are not as well developed.
Specific Findings and Recommendations for Key Elements of Evacuation Planning and Operations
This section summarizes major findings from the study for each of the key elements in evacuation planning and operations. Recommendations and current actions related to these findings are also discussed.
Decision Making and Management
Federal, State, and local emergency plans and operations for evacuations are not well integrated.
- Coordination: Decision making and coordination processes, including real-time operational command and control, are in place but are not sufficient to meet the demands of a mass evacuation from a catastrophic incident. The NRP and SLG 101 establish a framework for Federal, State, and local jurisdictions to work together to execute most evacuations, but neither contains adequate guidance for a catastrophe the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina. The processes for joining resources and linking decision making are not developed well enough. The lack of regional exercises to test decision making and management processes for a wide-scale mass evacuation also contribute to weaknesses in management.
- Mutual Aid: All of the Gulf Coast States have mutual-aid agreements with neighboring States and are members of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). All of the local jurisdictions also have mutual-aid agreements. Local agreements were not efficient for a hurricane the size of Katrina because the neighboring jurisdictions were also inundated and unable to provide timely assistance. State officials believe the EMAC process and agreements need to be updated to address problems associated with mass evacuations. Strengthening mutual-aid among jurisdictions is a critical step to improve mass evacuations.
- ESF-1 Roles: Evacuation roles and responsibilities under the ESF-1 program are not well understood by all State and local jurisdictions. Many agencies are unaware of the resources and capabilities the U.S. DOT has available to help in an evacuation. There also is a gap between ESF-1 functions provided in accordance with the NRP and the evacuation capabilities of some State and local agencies, especially in the area of operational command and control.
Recommendations and Current Actions
- DOT is working to clarify the Federal, State, local, and tribal government, non-governmental organization, and private sector roles, responsibilities, and expectations for evacuation activities under ESF-1.
- The NRP, SLG 101, and other evacuation-related guidance should be updated to reflect lessons learned in implementing evacuation plans during recent mass evacuations.
- Federal agencies should work with the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), States, and local jurisdictions to improve EMAC to develop more effective and better coordinated mutual-aid agreements among State and local jurisdictions.
- Regional exercises such as those that DHS is conducting in preparation for the 2006 hurricane season should be held on a regular basis to provide a mechanism for officials from different agencies and different levels of government to jointly review management requirements and resources available for mass evacuations.
"The United States was, and is, ill-prepared to respond to a catastrophic event of the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina. Catastrophic events are, by their nature, difficult to imagine and to adequately plan for, and the existing plans and training proved inadequate in Katrina."
U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, April 2006.
- Insufficient Guidelines: The States and local jurisdictions generally meet the guidelines for evacuations outlined in SLG 101 and have demonstrated their ability to plan and execute many evacuations from hurricanes. However, those guidelines did not lead to evacuation plans, organizational and management processes, or coordination with other levels of government that are necessary for a mass evacuation from a catastrophic incident. Further, SLG 101 has not been updated to correspond with the NRP.
- Lack of Detail in Plans: While some jurisdictions have well coordinated and tested plans, some have plans that do not include sufficient detail to ensure their effective execution. These jurisdictions may be the "weak link in the chain" when jurisdictions across a region must mobilize in a coordinated manner to respond to a catastrophic incident. Some locations such as coastal Texas and southeast Florida have developed regional evacuation and traffic management plans encompassing many jurisdictions for a large-scale evacuation.
- Complex Evacuation Plans: Evacuation plans for a region are spread among a "family of plans." These include plans, supplements, and annexes from various agencies and jurisdictions. They are organized differently and have varied levels of specificity. It is difficult for planners to assemble all of the important evacuation elements from the various agencies. In addition, it is difficult for planners and operational staff to assess whether all of the pieces work together and in coordination with the plans of other jurisdictions. These problems are compounded when a disaster includes multiple States and the Federal government.
- Transportation Expertise: Transportation agencies and providers have a unique understanding of evacuation, but emergency management and/or public safety agencies may do the planning and lead the decision making without sufficient input from transportation planners and operators including the various modes to be involved.
- En Route Services: Plans do not usually address the need for services en route for evacuees including fuel, water, food, restrooms, shelter, and medical needs.
- Operational Plans Integration: Evacuation plans at all levels of government inadequately support effective real-time command and control of mass evacuations, especially evacuations involving multiple States and the use of transportation modes other than personal vehicles. Plans need to better complement each other and provide for a smooth integration of Federal resources, capabilities, and operational structures.
Recommendations and Current Actions
- The U.S. DOT will continue to participate in the DHS processes to review and improve the NRP and SLG 101 guidance and incorporate the lessons learned from the 2005 hurricane season.
- Regional plans for mass evacuations in connection with one or more catastrophic incidents on the scale of Hurricane Katrina should be developed. The plans should be developed jointly by State and local officials within the region in cooperation with officials from appropriate Federal agencies; providers of all safe and practical modes of transportation; providers of shelters, food, fuel, and other necessities; managers of hospitals, nursing homes, jails, and other institutions with their own evacuation plans; and representatives of various special needs populations.
- Hurricane Evacuation Studies should be frequently updated. Procedures should be developed to allow critical information in these studies to be updated regularly without the need for a major study effort.
- Evacuation modeling tools should be developed that can predict evacuation times, manage evacuations in real time, and also be used by large and small jurisdictions to better support evacuation decision making, planning, and operations.
- Transportation agencies and operators should be more directly involved in key aspects of evacuation planning and implementation.
Public Communication and Preparedness
- Public Education and Responsibility: 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.
- Tailored Communications: Some State and local plans provide for communicating basic evacuation-related information to residents in Spanish or other foreign languages, but most plans do not. Plans need to be improved for communicating evacuation-related information to people with limited English proficiency, people who are difficult to reach such as migrant workers and the homeless, and people with visual or hearing impairments.
- Communicating with Evacuees During an Evacuation: Plans for communicating information during an evacuation are not as well developed as plans for communicating prior to an evacuation. During an evacuation, evacuees typically will not have access to the Internet or to television — two of the primary means of providing pre-evacuation information. Many States position dynamic message signs along evacuation routes and staff at rest areas, truck weigh stations, welcome centers, and service plazas to provide information to evacuees en route. Motorist information services such as the 511 telephone system Florida has deployed or highway advisory radio can provide route-specific information. To get real-time traffic information on evacuation routes, traffic monitoring equipment is required. That equipment is not widely deployed in most rural areas, but Florida has an extensive traffic monitoring system. Portable ITS components and systems can allow States to dramatically increase these capabilities in rural areas.
Recommendations and Current Actions
- 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. Systems should be based on existing ITS architecture and, to the maximum extent possible, should be incorporated into general purpose motorist information and traffic monitoring services used during normal traffic operations.
Evacuation of People with Special Needs
More planning must be conducted to accommodate special needs populations in an evacuation.
- Defining Special Needs: Current evacuation plans often define "special needs" populations too narrowly to address all those who need transportation during an evacuation. Considerations for people with special needs are included in plans when the groups are identified; however, many plans do not include certain special needs populations. For example, 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 still need assistance to evacuate.
- Residential Institutions: Major institutions, such as prisons and hospitals, are responsible for evacuating their facilities, but the evacuation plans are often not coordinated with the emergency management agency, and they do not know whether the plans function together (e.g., How much notice does the institution need? Are they relying on other State or local resources such as State Police or vehicles who might be assigned elsewhere in a catastrophe?).
Recommendations and Current Actions
- The U.S. DOT is preparing a primer on evacuating various special needs populations. This primer will include essential information and technical assistance for State and local agencies and others responsible for evacuating and sheltering persons with various special needs.
- State and local agencies should work with the special needs communities to develop systems whereby those requiring specialized transportation or sheltering services during evacuations can make those needs known to emergency managers and operators of transportation and sheltering services before evacuations
Evacuation Operations for All Modes of Transportation
ITS proved very useful in an evacuation.
- Advanced technologies: Over the last 10 years, many State and local agencies have installed ITS systems in their urban and high-traffic areas to better manage traffic flow and assist with incident management on a daily basis. These systems proved very useful in an evacuation, but are generally not available in rural and less populated areas. However, mobile or portable transportation management components will increase an Agency's capabilities to monitor and respond to conditions along various evacuation routes.
Catastrophic evacuations can quickly overwhelm State and local transportation resources.
- Contraflow Operations: States in the Gulf Coast region all have contraflow plans, and those plans have been used in recent evacuations. Contraflow operations can be very effective, but substantial planning is required to assess details of how, where, and under what conditions it will be implemented. Few of the plans included detailed plans to use alternative modes of transportation for evacuating people without access to private vehicles.
- All Safe and Practical Modes of Transportation: Most State and local evacuation plans focus primarily on highway evacuations by personal vehicles, which is by far the predominant mode. Plans, in general, do not give adequate attention to evacuation by other modes including buses, trains, ships, and planes. Several States recently have entered into agreements with motor coach operators to secure services of additional motor coaches, should they be needed. Buses, trains, ships, and airplanes are relied upon by those with special needs and those without access to an automobile.
Recommendations and Current Actions
- The U.S. DOT is working to establish procedures for advance notice from State and local agencies that evacuation assistance may be needed in the future. These coordination processes will identify the type and number of resources the U.S. DOT can supply and the time needed for deployment. The U.S. DOT will continue to work with the State and local agencies to better understand each other's capabilities and to ensure there is an adequate understanding of the process to request such resources.
- ITS systems should be deployed more widely on evacuation routes to monitor traffic conditions and to provide information to evacuees on alternative routes. This is an efficient means of communicating with evacuees not only during an evacuation but also during the re-entry after the storm.
- The U.S. DOT and several States have begun to reach out to various segments of the transportation industry to better understand their requirements to effectively participate in a mass evacuation associated with a catastrophic incident.
Evacuation-Related Sheltering Considerations
- Evacuation route services: Few plans addressed services along the evacuation route such as fuel, food, restrooms, and water, or access to emergency medical services. Few plans provided for these services or addressed how to communicate the information to evacuees. Such an effort will have to involve the private sector such as gasoline suppliers and retailers, hotels, and restaurants and other food service providers. These groups are not often included in emergency planning activities.
- Shelter destinations: Current plans do not adequately address the number of shelters that might be needed for a mass evacuation comparable in scope to Hurricane Katrina. Because of the large number of evacuees, there were not enough shelters to accommodate the number of people seeking them. The U.S. DOT arranged for motor coaches to transport evacuees, but had difficulty finding shelter destinations for those evacuees. Some pre-existing agreements on who could use the shelters were not honored due to the massive number of people who evacuated in Texas during Hurricane Rita and evacuees still in Texas shelters after Hurricane Katrina. MARAD ships proved their value in providing shelter (and command and control capabilities) for emergency response workers, displaced critical workers and emergency response equipment.
- Pets: Current plans do not adequately consider accommodation of pets. The lack of shelter and accommodation of pets on various modes of public transportation was a significant issue during the recent evacuations. Thousands of pets needed care and shelter, and many people refused to evacuate without their pets.
- Transporting Rescued Persons: Hurricane Katrina illustrated failure to integrate search and rescue missions and the subsequent need to transport those rescued persons to shelters or assembly areas for evacuation.
Recommendations and Current Actions
- The U.S. DOT has established liaisons with the American Red Cross and the Humane Society of the United States to work on major evacuation issues. The U.S. DOT will continue to work with the American Red Cross and other organizations involved in sheltering to more effectively meet needs associated with mass evacuations.
- State and local regulations with respect to accommodating pets on public transportation and at public shelters should be reviewed and modified as appropriate to provide greater accommodation of pets during evacuations. These changes should be communicated with the public and shelter operators.
- Steps should be taken to ensure that all forms of temporary housing meet Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines. Steps should be taken to consider the needs of those with disabilities who may need special accommodations.
- DOT should assist DHS develop a comprehensive search and rescue plan that integrates rescue missions with transportation and evacuation.
Training and Exercises
Training and exercises are critical to practice established procedures, processes, and agency relationships.
- Regional and Interagency Training: All of the States examined for this report indicate a commitment to an exercise, drill, and training program. Several of the States regularly include table-top exercises to test their procedures and processes, include representatives from transportation agencies, and have a system for incorporating lessons learned as needed. Agencies reported that the relationships and experience built through training and exercises assists with successful evacuations. However, the States generally train and exercise with jurisdictions in their State and do not participate in multi-State exercises and training. Some plans do not include training and exercises for volunteer organizations that are a major resource in emergency response. Some States reported that they were not constrained by funding, but rather by the time available to plan and participate in training and exercises.
Recommendations and Current Actions
- Regional exercises to test plans and decision making structures for different mass evacuation scenarios should be conducted on a regular basis to ensure that Federal, State, and local agencies are prepared to respond to different types of catastrophic incidents.
The Homeland Security Council, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and the GAO have all issued reports looking at various aspects of the Federal response to the catastrophic hurricanes that struck in 2005. These reports contain numerous recommendations on actions that could allow the Federal Government to work more effectively with State and local government in responding to future catastrophic incidents. Many of these recommendations touch on aspects of mass evacuations. The U.S. DOT, DHS, and other Federal agencies are reviewing these recommendations along with other internal and external assessments of responses to recent catastrophic incidents. As noted above, many short-term actions have already been taken, but others could require legislative changes. Potential longer-term changes are being carefully considered before any legislative proposals are sent forward.
The U.S. DOT is examining a number of specific options that will enhance its ability to respond to evacuation needs associated with catastrophic incidents. In addition to activities noted above that have already been done to prepare for the 2006 hurricane season, the U.S. DOT is examining a range of potential longer-term options including ways to organize itself better to respond to catastrophic incidents and ways to enhance the contribution of various U.S. DOT programs to improve State and local evacuation capabilities. Once decisions have been made on how best to accomplish any needed U.S. DOT organizational and programmatic changes and those changes have been assessed in terms of their contribution to overall Federal response capabilities, required legislative proposals will be made.