CHAPTER 3 - STATE OF THE PRACTICE: A SYNTHESIS

ON HURRICANE EVACUATION OPERATIONS

 

Introduction

 

According to FEMA, during the 20th Century more than 10,000 people lost their lives to hurricanes in the US alone. The fatality rate has been dropping thanks to early warnings and proactive evacuation activities. However, lives are still threatened and sometimes lost when natural disasters strike. While larger metropolitan areas often have alternative evacuation plans developed in detail, smaller urban and rural municipalities often have less than comprehensive plans for evacuation operations or emergency responses. This research modeled transit issues unique to hurricane evacuation of elderly and disable citizens residing in both a small urban and rural municipality in the state of North Carolina.

 

During a hurricane evacuation a large number of vehicles have to be moved across a road network in a short period of time [33]. The number of vehicles leaving becomes a big problem for areas such as Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia to name a few. The number of evacuating vehicles varies depending on the number of residents, intensity of the hurricane, location, time of occurrence, direction of approach, and the number of tourists' [33].

 

Moreover, the evacuation of hurricane-vulnerable people is largely a transportation problem. While it is possible to have several days warning prior to the hurricane arrival, as the arrival of the hurricane can be to some extent predicted, it is important to begin preparations for the hurricane well in advance of any information that it may land in a location near you. To this extent, the critical factors that determine a community's response to a disaster are the preparedness measures, such as emergency procedures, evacuation plans, search and rescue training, and effective telecommunication systems [5]. Therefore, the thrust of this chapter was to provide a review of pertinent theoretical and empirical literature that investigates both the planning of hurricane evacuation operations as well as the technological applications used in modeling hurricane evacuation operations. Accompanying the literature review, the research team inventoried a number of initiatives and evacuation plans of communities, agencies and organizations addressing the issue of mobility and accessibility as well as the use of transit resources as a means to evacuate the elderly and disable citizens residing in hurricane- prone areas.

 

Definition of Hurricanes and Hurricane Categories

 

According to the New Orleans Citizens Emergency Preparedness Guide, a hurricane is a cyclone (low-pressure system) developing in the tropics with a minimum wind speed of 74 miles per hour. The wind rotates in a counterclockwise direction around the center of the storm, called the "eye", where the winds are nearly calm. The wind in an intense hurricane may exceed 150 miles per hour with gusts above 20 miles per hour just outside of the storm's center. Hurricane force winds may extend out 100 miles from the center with gale force winds (39 miles per hour or higher) extending outward 250 miles. Bands of very intense thunderstorms spiral outward from the eye of the hurricane for several hundred miles producing torrential rain, and occasionally spawning tornadoes when they begin moving over land.

 

Moreover, a hurricane can last for two weeks or more over open water and can run a path across the entire length of the Eastern Seaboard. When a hurricane watch is issued, the best response is to protect your property by boarding up windows, bringing in outside items, and being prepared to evacuate the areas as soon as officials advice. Evacuation ensures that virtually nobody is present.

 

Table 3.1 - Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale

 

Category Pressure

(millibars)

Winds (mph)

Surge (feet)

Damage

Example Storm

980 or more

74 - 95

4 - 5

Minimal

Danny - 1985

965 - 979

96 - 110

6 - 8

Moderate

Flossy - 1956

945 - 964

111 - 130

9 - 12

Extensive

Andrew - 1992

920 - 944

131 - 155

12 - 18

Extreme

Audrey - 1957

< 920

> 155

> 18

Catastrophic

Camille - 1969

Source [3]

 

Hurricane categories as per Table 3.1 are characterized by its intensity which is embodied in the Saffir-Simpson scale: Category 1 (Minimal Damage) - no real damage by wind is caused to buildings. Some damage is done to poorly constructed signs. Some damage primarily occurs to unanchored mobile homes, shrubbery, trees, and foliage. Low-lying roads are inundated by storm surge. Minor pier damage occurs; Category 2 (Moderate Damage) - roofing, doors and windows of homes and businesses are damaged by winds. Considerable wind damage is done to mobile homes and vegetation. Low-lying roads are inundated by storm surge. Considerable damage is done by storm surge and wave action to piers. Small craft in unprotected anchorage break their moorings; Category 3 (Extensive Damage) - winds cause structural damage to homes and utility buildings with a minor amount of curtain wall failure. Mobile homes are destroyed. Storm surge flooding destroys many smaller buildings while floating debris damages large buildings. Terrain continuously lower than 10 feet above mean sea level will flood; Category 4 (Extreme Damage) - more extensive curtain wall failures with some complete roof failure on homes occur. Major damage is caused to lower floors of homes and businesses from storm surge flooding. Terrain continuously lower than 15 feet above mean sea level will flood; and Category 5 (Catastrophic Damage) - there is complete roof failure of many homes and business as well as complete building failure of small structures. Buildings located less than 20 feet above mean sea level will experience major storm surge flooding to lower floors [3].

 

Snapshot (1989-2000) of Hurricane Tracking in the US

 

According to Table 3.2 between 1989 and 2000, there were 19 different hurricanes that struck the continental United States. During this period, approximately 63 percent were Category 1 and 2 hurricanes, 37 percent were Category 3, 4, and 5 (major hurricanes), and 47 percent made landfall in various parts of North Carolina. The 1995, 1996, 1998, and 1999 seasons were the most active in that hurricane activity grew to a higher level, thus producing many of the most damaging major hurricanes on an annual basis.

 

Table 3.2 - Hurricane Tracking for US and North Carolina

 

HURRICANES THAT AFFECTED THE CONTINENTAL

U.S. ATLANTIC REGION FROM 1989 - 2000

YEAR

HURRICANE NAME

CATEGORY

*STATES

AFFECTED

TOTAL DEATHS IN U.S.

TOTAL DEATHS IN NORTH CAROLINA

TOTAL DAMAGE IN U.S. ($)

TOTAL DAMAGE IN NORTH CAROLINA

($)

2000

GORDON

1

FL, GA, SC, NC, VA

0

0

10.8 MILL

N/A

1999

BRET

1

TX

0

0

60 MILL

0

1999

DENNIS

1

DE, NJ, FL, GA, SC, NC, VA,

4

3

157 MILL

37 MILL

1999

FLOYD

4

NC, NJ, VA, NY, DE, FL, GA, SC, MA

56

35

3 - 6 BILL

N/A

1999

IRENE

1

FL, NC, VA, SC, GA

8

0

800 MILL

N/A

1998

BONNIE

1

DE,VA,GA,NJ, RI, MA, SC, NC

3

1

720 MILL

480 MILL

1998

EARL

1

MS, LA, TX, AL, FL, GA, SC

1

0

79 MILL

0

1998

GEORGES

4

FL, MS, LA

1

0

5.9 BILL

0

1998

MITCH

5

FL

2

0

40 MILL

0

1997

DANNY

1

FL, GA, MS, AL, SC, NC, LA

9

1

100 MILL

N/A

1996

BERTHA

2

RI, DE, NY, MA, SC, VA, NC, NJ, FL, GA

8

2

250 MILL

135 MILL

1996

FRAN

3

NC, SC, VA, MA, WV, PA, OH, GA, FL

34

21

3.2 BILL

1.275 BILL

1995

ALLISON

1

FL, GA

0

0

1.7 MILL

0

1995

ERIN

1

MS, KY, AL, FL, LA, MO, TN, IL, OH, IN, AR

0

0

700 MILL

0

1995

OPAL

3

AL, FL, LA, TN, KY

9

1

3 BILL

0

1994

GORDON

1

VA, NC, FL, GA, SC

N/A

N/A

400 MILL

0

1992

ANDREW

4

FL, LA, GA, MS, TX, AL

35

0

25 BILL

0

1991

BOB

2

RI, MA, ME

N/A

N/A

1.5 BILL

N/A

1989

HUGO

4

GA, SC, NC, VA

N/A

N/A

1.3 BILL

N/A

Source [4]. NOTE: *Not all of the States listed were directly affected by the hurricane. Some were affected either by tropical storms, tropical depressions, or subtropical storms prior to or after the hurricane. The path and strength of the hurricane plays a major role in this.

 

Moreover, Florida is the most hurricane prone state in the US with the southeast being the most at risk. Eleven hurricanes made landfall in Florida, four in Georgia, five each in Louisiana and Virginia, six in South Carolina, and nine in North Carolina. The costliest hurricane recorded was Hurricane Andrew in August 1992. It hit the States of Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana with damage estimates topping $25 billion dollars. During the 1996 season, Hurricanes Bertha and Fran both hit the state of North Carolina. Total costs associated with damages for the US was approximately $3.5 billion with $1.4 billion allocated to the state of North Carolina. The number of deaths directly attributed to hurricanes occurring from 1995 to 1999 inclusive for the United States totaled 135 death verses 64 deaths in North Carolina.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 3.1 - Hurricane Fran

 

While hurricanes are inevitable on the East Coast of North America, developing intelligent responses in the years, months, days, hours, and even minutes before a hurricane landfall can enable individuals to prepare effectively, thus limiting human and material losses.

 

Planning Hurricane Evacuation Operations: Chronology of Current Practices

 

As per the leading authors in evacuation planning and emergency management concepts, planning hurricane evacuation planning operations are often managed at the local levels and have historically fallen under the jurisdiction of emergency planning and law-enforcement agencies [25]. Additionally, many of the entities gave little attention to planning in a manner that facilitates utilizing the transportation system to its fullest potential when the need arises. However, there are some entities that have used a comprehensive and/or cooperative approach to evacuating local citizens in the event of a hurricane. This section of the chapter will highlight these practices.

 

In 1987, the Department of Energy contracted with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to assess issues and criticisms of evacuation planning for all hazards under an integrated emergency management concept. The work identifies gaps in knowledge about evacuation planning issues and research that can address these gaps. Over 300 documents were reviewed and abstracted, and key findings were summarized. Issues were identified by review of hearings, litigations, critiques, and discussions with planners and experts. Evacuation planning for some hazards has integrated physical, risk studies with quantitative evacuation traffic modeling and behavioral research to produce comprehensive planning guidance. The adoption of an integrated or generic emergency management approach has bolstered and will further bolster the expediency of evacuation planning. Over the past ten years, most aspects of evacuation logistics have been identified and researched. There are indications that the local implementation of evacuation procedures has improved. People who could have evacuated to safety continue to die in disasters. The research identified ten major issues in evacuation planning that cut across hazards. Planning for large-scale evacuations requires improvement. A better understanding of special evacuation planning needs for fast-moving events is needed. Evacuation planning for concurrent hazardous events is lacking. A better understanding of human behavior in evacuations is desirable. The accuracy of evacuation time estimates should be established. Guidelines on reentry after an evacuation should be improved. Special populations planning require further investigation. Liability for evacuation decisions should be resolved. Uncertainties and problems in evacuation decision-making need greater attention. Adoption and implementation of integrated evacuation plans need further investigation.

McLeod observed a number of many problems (e.g., congestion, high winds, downed power lines, and sometimes slowdowns due to the collection of tolls on an evacuation route that surfaced with the Florida's transportation system during hurricane evacuations. More specifically, the three major elements contributing to Florida's transportation problem when evacuating hurricane-vulnerable people are (a) physical capacity (e.g., number of lanes), (b) structural (e.g., drainage and washouts), and (c) traffic management (e.g., signals and managing accidents). In an effort to resolve this problem, a number of recommendations were made. They were: (1) no major roadway improvements (widening or new road) should be built strictly due to hurricane evacuation needs, (2) the concept of armoring, protecting, and moving coastal highways for evacuation purposes should be considered only on a case-by-case basis. The random event of a hurricane is such that it is usually cheaper to rebuild roads as needed, rather than move or rebuild large portions of our coastal highway system, (3) Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) should not fund construction or planning for any facility that intrudes into a Federal Coastal Barrier Resource System, (4) FDOT should eliminate toll collection during a hurricane emergency. Specific language should be added to all new bonding terms of indenture so that suspension of tolls is legal and understood, and (5) emergency management officials must couple the hazards data provided by the National Hurricane Center with clearance time information calculated from transportation analyses. By considering these sources of timing data, officials can determine when a strong evacuation advisory or order must be issued to allow people time to reach safe shelter.

 

During September 1999, Hurricane Floyd skirted the Southeast Coast of the United States and made landfall in eastern North Carolina. During the storm's life, an estimated 3 million people evacuated from their homes in the states of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. This storm occurred two weeks after Hurricane Dennis made landfall in eastern North Carolina. Hurricane Dennis saturated the ground before Hurricane Floyd struck. This resulted in unprecedented flooding in that part of the state. Hurricane Floyd was a Category 4 storm that closely followed the path of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, until 2 days before it made landfall. For these reasons and many other reasons, the affected population took this storm more seriously than past storms [29].

While there were numerous public complaints about the evacuation process, the evacuations in all states accomplished their primary purposes: (1) evacuees from the vulnerable areas of each state evacuated before the damaging weather arrived; and (2) the evacuation occurred without loss of life. Moreover, the impact of Floyd on the transportation system offered officials a window to identify some areas of improvement [29].

 

In October 1999, the US Army Corps of Engineers contracted PBS&J to conduct studies to determine the nature and causes of the transportation problems encountered during an evacuation. Also, they were charged with developing specific recommendations and tools to assist the emergency management community in the states of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina to reduce or eliminate transportation problems in the future [29].

 

The findings from the study identified two specific tools that would assist transportation officials in the management of the hurricane evacuation planning process. They were: (1) use strategies to transpose "coast-bound" lanes of travel to the direction of evacuating traffic on controlled access facilities, such as Interstates highways, and (2) use ITS applications that will better manage existing roadway capacity, manage traffic congestion and provide more information to the affected public. Complementing the ITS recommendation, there were a number of non-ITS technology applications that were endorsed, such as availability of fuel, restaurants, rest areas, and welcome centers remaining open during the critical evacuation period [29].

Emergency evacuation is one of three major points Florida hopes to address with their Mobility 2000 Initiative. The other two are expansion of trade and tourism quarters and relieving traffic congestion. Moreover, Dick Kane, FDOT spokesman, states that Hurricane Floyd caused the largest evacuation in US history (approximately 2 million people). With the passage of Mobility 2000, the largest transportation funding package in the history of Florida, the emphasis will not just be on building more roads, but on doing a better job in communicating with the public, providing better signage and more advance notice. A few of the projects advanced under the Mobility 2000 Initiative specific to emergency evacuation were: (1) four- lane sections of route 87 and 79 in northwest Florida, (2) six-lane sections of Interstate 95 from Daytona Beach to the Georgia state line, and (3) six-lane sections of Interstate 75 in Lee and Collier counties. These projects, in addition to others, are part of Florida's progressive $6 billion dollar transportation improvement investment that Governor Jeb Bush strongly endorses because the transportation system is vital to the economic prosperity and quality of life of Florida's residents' [19].

Regarding the City of New Orleans, Wolshon describes the city of New Orleans' hurricane evacuation plan. Specifically, he highlights the problems that are particular to implementing a regional evacuation plan for the city as well as the creative ways that disaster and transportation planning agencies can work together to solve them. Also, several critical operational, strategic, and administrative issues affecting the movement of New Orleans citizens during the 1998 Hurricane Georges evacuation were addressed. Some of the assumptions and findings include: (1) implementing the use contraflow evacuation technique to reverse traffic flow on freeway routes to move all traffic in an outbound direction; and (2) recognizing that while a total evacuation is required, an evacuation of only part of the population is practically possible. In fact, of the 1.4 million citizens residing in New Orleans, it is assumed that 60 percent of the population will want, or be able to leave the city. The primary reasons are a lack of access to transportation (it is estimated that about 200,000 to 300,000 people do not have access to reliable personal transportation), an unwillingness to leave homes and property (estimated to be at least 100,000 people) and a lack of outbound roadway capacity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 3.2 - Contraflow Traffic Movement

 

To complement Wolshon's research, the City of New Orleans Office of Emergency Preparedness developed the Citizen Emergency Preparedness Guide. The purpose of the guide is to provide citizens with information on: (1) the types of hazards that confront the city of New Orleans, (2) preparing their own individual emergency plan, and (3) the proper procedures that should be followed in the event of an emergency. Also, the Orleans Parish three-phase evacuation plan is discussed in detail. The phases are precautionary, recommended, and mandatory. During the precautionary phase, the focus is on people who are most vulnerable to hurricane and the effects of both water and wind. These are offshore workers, persons on coastal islands or in wetlands, person aboard boats, and those living in mobile homes and recreational vehicles. No special traffic control or transportation measures are implemented, however, procedurally the following occurs: (1) a state of emergency is declared, (2) the City of New Orleans Emergency Operating Center (EOC) is activated, (3) special facilities, including nursing homes, begin preparation for possible evacuation, (4) staging areas and/or shelters are announced, (5) citizens implement their personal evacuation plan at their discretion, and (6) persons with special needs are encouraged to call on Social Service Agency, family and friends to help them as well as make them part of their plan. During the recommended phase, it has been determined that the storm has a high probability of causing a significant threat to people living in the areas of risk. Government authorities will recommend that persons at risk evacuate. Staging areas are designated for persons needing transportation. Specific procedures during this phase are: (1) the City of New Orleans EOC is staffed for 24-hour operation, (2) local transportation will be mobilized to assist persons who lack transportation, (3) bus routes and locations of staging areas for those needing transportation to shelters in or out o the Parish, will be announced via radio and television, and (4) relative and neighbors should help family and friends who need transportation and other assistance. Lastly, during the mandatory phase, authorities put maximum emphasis on encouraging evacuation and limiting entry into the risk area. This is the most serious phase of evacuation. The State Office of Emergency Preparedness, State Police, State Department of Transportation and the Louisiana National Guard will assume coordination and responsibility for traffic control on all major evacuation routes. Because of deteriorating weather conditions, at some point, evacuation routes will be closed and the remaining people at risk will be directed to a last resort refuge. Procedures carried out during the mandatory phase are: (1) persons living in designated evacuation zones will be instructed to leave, (2) traffic controls will be imposed to direct persons to designated evacuation routes; and (4) emergency alerting system (EAS) radio stations 870 AM, 101.9 FM and the news media will issue evacuation information.

The Harris County Emergency Management Office in Texas developed their evacuation plan to include specific guidelines to move people without transportation and people who require assistance (e.g., blind, disable, elderly, and non-English speaking residents). Also, some attention was given to the evacuation of special facilitates (e.g., hospitals, jails, institutions for the handicapped or disable, and nursing homes). Finally, there were four accessibility and mobility strategies suggested. They are: (1) use public transportation to pickup citizens requiring assistance at their residence in case of an evacuation, (2) use the pre-established Metro bus stops on local Metro bus routes as pickup points for able-bodied residents without transportation, (3) identify transportation pickup points for the rural areas of Harris County not serviced by Metro and announce through the Public Information Officer, and (4) require the special facilities to have their own evacuation plans outlining the transportation resources needed to conduct the evacuation, as well as the requirements for other resources such as food, medicine, and attendants. The officials operating these facilities are encouraged to make arrangements with suitable reception area facilities to lodge their clients.

 

In the state of North Carolina, the North Carolina Emergency Management Division (NCEMD) develops the evacuation plans and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has a secondary role in the effort. Issuing evacuation orders are local county decisions. The local NCDOT managers keep in touch with local emergency management officials at all times during the evacuation operations.

 

Moreover, as per the NCEMD and Table 3.3, currently there are 49 North Carolina counties that provide hurricane safety and preparation tips via their respective emergency management/service agency's websites. The level of information associated with each website varies across counties and the details regarding the resources allocated to transporting elderly and disabled individuals is extremely limited. However, some counties as per their responses to an email questionnaire did cite some of their progressive activities and they were; (1) Cabarrus County contracts with the Laidlaw Transportation, Incorporated van system. In time of an evacuation, these vans along with school buses would become part of the County's Emergency Operations Center transportation assets and made available for use as needed. Ten of the 24 multi-passenger vans are lift-equipped to assist with servicing the special needs of individuals; (2) Mecklenburg County's emergency operations center is set up by the City of Charlotte Emergency Management agency. The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) provides transportation and other evacuation services as needed during emergency situations. Currently, CATS is on the back-up support list for the police, fire, medic, and other emergency service agencies. CATS Bus Operations Division maintains total control over the bus fleet while offering support as requested. Moreover, CATS do not have a published plan outlining their support activities. Their actions would be responding to servicing request by the emergency operations center and other emergency service entities; and (3) Guilford County incorporates both the Greensboro Transit Authority (GTA) and other internal county transit systems into their citywide evacuation plan. Additionally, transporting the elderly and disabled is supplemented by the National Guard when permitted by the NCEMD and the County's Special Needs Team (headed by Social Services) is responsible for transporting patients, clients, records and medicine from facilities under their jurisdiction.

 

Table 3.3 - NCEMD Local & County Emergency Management Entities

 

County

Emergency Management

Emergency Services

County

Emergency Management

Emergency Services

Alamance

 

         

Haywood

         

 

Alexander

         

 

Henderson

         

 

Anson

         

 

Hoke

         

 

Brunswick

         

 

Iredell

         

 

Buncombe

         

 

Johnston

         

 

Burke

 

         

Lenoir

         

 

Cabarrus

         

 

Mecklenburg-City of Charlotte

         

 

Caldwell

         

 

Moore

         

 

Carteret

 

         

New Hanover

         

 

Catawba

         

 

Onslow

 

         

Cherokee

         

 

Orange

         

 

Chowan

 

         

Pamlico

         

 

Cleveland

 

         

Pasquotank-Camden

         

 

Currituck

         

 

Pender

         

 

Dare

         

 

Randolph

 

         

Davidson

         

 

Rowan

         

 

Durham

         

 

Stanly

 

         

Edgecombe

         

 

Surry

 

         

Forsyth-City of Winston-Salem

         

 

Union

         

 

Gaston

         

 

Wake

         

 

Graham

 

         

Washington

         

 

Granville

         

 

Watauga

         

 

Guilford-Greensboro

         

 

Wayne

 

         

Halifax

 

         

Wilson

         

 

Harnett

         

 

 

 

 

Source [24]

 

Planning Hurricane Evacuation Operations: Application of Modeling Technologies

 

Several analytical tools have been used to facilitate major issues in hurricane evacuation planning for a variety of natural disasters. During the 1990 - 2000 time frame, FEMA spent approximately $20 billion dollars to help people repair and rebuild their communities after the occurrence of several natural disasters. In response, FEMA took a proactive approach to change the way the public deals with disasters. In October 1997, FEMA launched a nationwide initiative entitled, "Project Impact: Building Disaster Resistant Communities." The initiative was designed to help communities protect themselves from the devastating effects of natural disasters with preventive actions that dramatically reduce disruption and loss [27]. More specifically, the initiative commonsense approach was based on three principles--preventive actions must be decided at the local level, private sector participation is vital and long-term preventive efforts and investments are essential.

 

Currently, 120 communities throughout the United States are participating in Project Impact. FEMA is collaborating with the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) to foster and support the use of GIS technology as a tool for implementing disaster resistance, particularly as it pertains to developing or implementing strategies for reducing damage from natural hazards. Additionally, Project Impact is serving to empower communities as they pursue smart growth strategies while strengthening the federal government's partnership with local government [27].

 

Regional evacuation is often a viable safeguard against natural catastrophes such as hurricanes and volcano eruptions, and man-made disasters such as toxic gas release into the atmosphere. Several computer programs exist for modeling regional evacuation on a given road network. As would be expected, these models are data intensive. In 1992, a personal computer (PC)-based interactive model, Software Utility for Regional Evacuation (SURE), to create input to Interactive Dynamic Evacuation Model (IDYNEV) and analyze its output was developed. The preprocessor module of SURE substantially reduces the time required to create input files to IDYNEV and the post-processor module summarizes the simulated results from the usually huge IDYNEV output files. The model also illustrates the evacuation network graphically and highlights problem links and intersections at selected intervals. SURE is being used extensively for evacuation studies under the US Army's Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness (CSEP) Program.

 

In FY 1995, after Hurricane Iniki caused $260 million in damage to Hawaii, Congress authorized the funding for a Pacific Disaster Center (PDC). The PDC supports federal, regional, and international emergency managers along the Pacific Rim by providing high quality, timely imagery, maps and other value-added information products about natural and human induced disasters, including hurricanes, tidal waves, floods, and earthquakes via the Internet.

 

Results to a 1998 project performed for the FDOT by the Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) at the University of South Florida were presented in a report separated into two sections comprising the two phases of the project: Phase I - Hurricane Evacuation Traffic Analysis; (Analysis of Traffic Demands During Historical Evacuations); Phase II - Advanced Technologies for Improving Operations Management During Hurricane Evacuations (Traffic Surveillance Camera Resources Summary; Examination of Real Time Traffic Information on World Wide Web (WWW) Sites. This report presents the findings of all three elements of the project.

 

In June 1999, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) started developing a hurricane management system to manage evacuation and track road usage in a natural disaster. With the help of Intergraph, the agency launched the Hurricane Evacuation Decision Support System just prior to Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd. The system is a Web-based presentation of maps that incorporates live information from SCDOT's GIS, remote traffic counters, evacuation routes, detour maps, and real-time weather data. It is designed to put rapidly changing traffic and weather information at the fingertips of state officials who manage evacuations. Additionally, SCDOT personnel customized the charts for Floyd to isolate traffic on specific routes, such as Interstate 26 heading west across the state, or in metropolitan areas, such as Charleston, where many evacuation routes merge toward inland destinations.

 

Referencing the June 2000 PBS&J study mentioned earlier, a web based evacuation travel demand model was constructed so that major traffic congestion areas and traffic flows could be anticipated and monitored for a Floyd type event. Microsoft's Visual Basic and ESRI's Map Objects, Map Objects IMS, and ArcView developed this important tool. Out of county evacuation data calculated in FEMA, the US Army Corps of Engineers hurricane evacuation study products and Regional Planning Council hurricane studies were used as a baseline for the model. The model was set up so that a state could dialup the model and input (hurricane category, expected participation rate/compliance rate, tourist occupancy, and destination percentages) information pertaining to their area. Once the information is submitted, the model updates a number of system forecasts and graphics and provides key information for a significant hurricane threat. Other data that can be input real time are hour by hour traffic counts at locations where a state or county have the ability to collect and communicate such information. The major model outputs are: (1) expected congestion levels by highway segment, (2) tables of expected vehicles crossing state lines by direction, (3) comparisons of traffic count station data to forecast condition, (4) numbers of vehicles generated by each county traveling to specific inland locations, and (5) route information by segment including a number of lanes, facility type, service volume, and congestion measure [32].

 

In March 2000, PDC contracted with ESRI to implement dynamic mapping. This technology will enable members of the fire department or other local emergency response teams to indicate the location of an event by clicking a point on the map, thus increasing their exposure to more information and enhancing their emergency management activities. This is an upgrade in technical capabilities since the previous maps and images on the PDC site were static in nature. Finally, the PDC's future plan endorses the use of interactive mapping and satellite images. This feature enables an array of users to facilitate the sharing and use of a vast amount of information via the Global Disaster Information Network (GDIN) [20].

 

Currently, North Carolina uses an interactive web based system called the Traveler Information System (TIMS) (see Figure 3.3 [38]) to provide the viewer with a statewide map that is divided into three regions-Coast, Mountain, and Piedmont. Clicking on either of these regions will link to county maps within the region. Further clicking on the county map reveals the county road network and corresponding detailed road closure information text. Information accuracy and updates of road closure due to incidents and weather conditions remains the responsibility of public or private organizations providing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 3.3 - Traveler Information System (TIMS)

 

Public Transportation: A Valuable Resource

 

Typically when people think of public transportation they think of big buses in big cities, however public transportation comes in many forms (bicycles, buses, carpooling, trains, vanpooling, and vans) and in many areas--rural and urban [13]. For the purpose of this research, our discussion on public transportation will be limited to the use of buses and vans.

 

Buses come in many varieties. They range in size from 24 feet in length to as much as 60 feet in length. The size of the vehicle is dependent upon several factors: (1) the maximum load that may be on a bus at one time, (2) the width of the streets in neighborhoods, and (3) sometimes mandates from governing boards about bus sizes. The typical bus lengths are 35 and 40 foot buses that transport anywhere from 37 to 64 passengers. Depending upon the size of the community being served the sizes may be smaller or larger [13]. The various transit properties will usually run buses on a regular fixed route with fixed schedules and stops. Buses may run anywhere from every 10 minutes to every 60 minutes depending upon the time of day and the community being served.

 

In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 all new buses are purchased with either wheelchair lifts or ramps. The lifts are located in either the front or rear door. The lift stows away underneath the steps so those passengers who don't need the lift can enter the bus. In the case of a bus with a ramp, there are no steps to go up. The floor is flat and this makes entering the bus easier for people with disabilities, the elderly, and people traveling with small children [13].

 

Vans are often used in rural communities to provide transportation. The types of vans used are standard 15-passenger vans, 7-passenger mini-vans, and conversion vans. A conversion van is a passenger van that has been altered to allow the addition of a wheelchair lift and securement stations within the vehicle. Generally these vans have higher roofs and are sometimes referred to as "turtle tops" [13].

 

The vans generally provide a combination of rural general public and/or human services transportation. Some systems have developed "routes" that they travel at certain times and on certain days of the week to provide public service. Most systems provide human services transportation only. This means that the users of the service must be clients of an agency that contracts with the system [13].

 

The fastest growing segment of the population nationally and within the state of North Carolina is the elderly. In fact, North Carolina's elderly population is growing at an even faster rate than the nation as a whole. North Carolina's population also includes many citizens who are disabled. Many of these citizens are able to use public transit services for health and social reasons as well as to assist them in getting to and from work. Also, for those that are able to use public transportation services, this may be their only way to get to a doctor's office, grocery store, or church [41].

 

Clearly, mobility options for the elderly and disabled citizens are extremely important and can become problematic if public transportation did not exist. Public transportation do, in fact, provide more than just an option to elderly citizens, people with disabilities and others without access to personal vehicles or those who are unable to use them--it is their vital link to the community [37]. Public transportation provides crucial access to services and can, in the long run, reduce public costs for the delivery of those services. Lastly, public transportation is strategically positioned to elevate its role in providing mobility and access to a safer environment during a hurricane evacuation, particularly for individuals with special needs.

 

Implication of Findings

 

Indeed, planning for hurricane evacuation operations is a process that will continuously evolve. While the nuclear power facilities emergency preparedness planning can serve as an example for planning hurricane evacuation operations, it is important to develop progressive comprehensive plans that articulate responses well before a hurricane make landfall. This is key to facilitating entities with emergency-related responsibilities to coordinate transportation resources more efficiently as well as enabling individuals to prepare effectively. The comprehensive plans should explicitly address the issue of mobility and accessibility in a manner that integrates activities across several jurisdictions, thus raising the level of understanding regarding uncertainties and problems involved in evacuation decision-making. Finally, planning for special populations to be evacuated is paramount. It has been stated that evacuation ensures that virtually nobody is present. In order for this statement to hold true, proactive initiatives complemented with technology must carefully address the lack of mobility and accessibility that confronts a very large percentage of our citizens.