Monday, September 5

City of New Orleans 2004 report: hurricane evacuation procedures

For readers trying to nail down lines of authority and responsibility, here is the section of Chapter 3.3, March 2004 City of New Orleans report Special Emergency Transportation Planning and Massive Evacuation that specifically pertains to evacuation of New Orleans ahead of a hurricane. See URL (PDF or cached version) at end of this post for the entire section.

" [...] The prospect of catastrophic flooding within New Orleans and the Metro region resulting from hurricanes, and the potential for heavy loss of life, means the region's transportation network must be able to handle the stress of a large-scale evacuation. During a full evacuation more than a million people need to travel at least 80 miles to reach safer ground.

Travel times to nearby cities can be expected to be much longer than normal due to heavy traffic and weather conditions. During Hurricane Georges in 1998 it took six hours for New Orleans area citizens to reach Baton Rouge.(3)

Also the number of people evacuating the city grows in direct proportion to the intensity of a storm. The following figures show the number of people and vehicles needing to evacuate Orleans Parish in the event of a hurricane, based upon the intensity of the storm. (4)

People Evacuating Minimal Storm
People Evacuating Catastrophic Storm
Vehicles Used (Minimal storm evacuation)
Vehicles Used (Catastrophic Storm)

Based upon a total resident population of 496,938, as found in the 1990 U.S. Census.

When combined with the similarly large number of citizens that would be evacuating the parishes closer to the Gulf and from Plaquemines, Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes it is obvious the transportation system would be stressed.

Regional planning and coordination are essential to successful evacuations. There are currently no coordinated plans to use all available resources such as the public transit system to evacuate the population without automobiles.

The main responsibility and authority for operational aspects of evacuation in Orleans Parish lies with the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) within the Chief Administrative Office of the City. The authority to make the final decisions related to an evacuation rests with the Mayor of New Orleans.

Evacuation decisions are made in coordination with OEP staff, other City directors, and members of the Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Task Force, made up of top elected officials in all the Southeast Parishes and municipalities and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development(LaDOTD).

The private and public economic costs of closing an entire geographic area for several days are significant, so the decision to evacuate has to be carefully considered, based on the severity of the storm, the likely storm path, and the time required to prepare and move citizens away from the city. Evacuation decisions and status updates are broadcast on the City's cable access channel and communicated to all media.

[…] While the LaDOTD can assist with hurricane planning and evacuation, particularly with increasing capacity of major evacuation routes, most of the responsibility for implementing evacuations rests at the local level.

Careful planning must be done to continually improve the routes and methods of hurricane evacuation on both sides of the River. Problem areas, due to insufficient road capacity and/or frequent flooding, have been identified and targeted for improvements [see Map 16 PDF version]. (5)

These projects should be of the highest priority given the unpredictable nature of destructive storms and the potential for loss of life or property. Critical issues concerning emergency evacuation can be classified as follows:

Early Warning
Although the region supposedly can be evacuated in 72 hours, difficulty in predicting storm landfall can cause a delay in ordering such an evacuation. Hurricane advisory rules have recently been changed from a 3 day advance storm notice to 5 days. This added time should increase preparedness and promote a more timely and orderly evacuation. Such action promotes safety by reducing roadway congestion and exposure to poor weather and roadway conditions.

Preparation and Early Action
The key to the success of the evacuation system is based upon motorists being prepared and leaving early. Reliance on a public education program which calls for citizens to make appropriate arrangements in advance of the storm has proven inadequate.

Despite many booklets and educational programs, many citizens still do not know the basic evacuation routes, procedures, and the "how to" tips of hurricane evacuation. This causes carelessness, confusion and congestion. Evacuation warnings need to be taken more seriously by the populace.

Means of Departure
Hurricane evacuation planning is made more difficult for the City, due to the large percentage of residents without access to a private automobile. Only 27% of Orleans Parish residents evacuated the city during Hurricane Georges, while 45% of Jefferson Parish residents evacuated.

Orleans Parish residents were more likely to stay during a storm for lack of transportation, financial resources or a tendency to ignore evacuation warnings. Evacuation is also closely related to income.

During Hurricane Georges only 16% of those with incomes below $25,000 left town, while 54% of those with incomes over $80,000 left.(6)

In addition to those unable to afford vehicles or transportation there are the disabled, hospitalized, elderly and incarcerated who would not be able to drive from the area.

Development of alternative means for citizens to leave the area is crucial. RTA provides transportation for citizens to shelters and places where out of town transportation may be obtained, but has no provision to use its buses to evacuate citizens out of the city.

While the RTA has expressed a willingness to assist in emergency evacuation, a regional cooperative agreement with other jurisdictions is needed. Visitors and some residents may choose commercial transportation, but at some point commercial bus, rail, and air transportation out of the city will not be available.

Greater involvement of local churches, businesses and non-profit groups in providing transport and assisting people without their own transportation or with special needs is needed. [...]"

(3) Washing Away: A Special Report- New Orleans Times-Picayune, 2003

(4) South Louisiana Hurricane Evacuation, prepared for LADOTD, 2001

(5) Hurricane Incident Transportation Planning: Infrastructure Improvements for Regional Evacuation, Regional Planning Commission, 1995.

(6) Evacuation Behavior in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes During Hurricane Georges, University of New Orleans Survey Research Center, 1998.


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