EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — September 27, 2006

Catastrophic Hurricane Evacuation
U.S. DOT Study Findings and Recommendations

Kimberly Vásconez
Emergency Transportation Operations Team Leader
Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone and welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum. "Our topic today is Catastrophic Hurricane Evacuation: U.S. DOT Study Findings and Recommendations." Now it is my pleasure to introduce today's speaker.

Kimberly C. Vásconez serves as the Emergency Transportation Operations (ETO) Team Leader in the Office of Operations at USDOT/Federal Highway Administration in Washington, DC. With 19 years of experience in a variety of areas that required a knowledge of emergency transportation and traffic management, she assumed her current position in late February 2006, after spending one year with FHWA's Office of International Programs as the Global Technology Exchange Team Leader.

Ms. Vásconez transferred to FHWA in 2005 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), where she served almost 14 years in a variety of capacities. For additional background information, and links to the report that is the subject of today's discussion, please visit the Background Page for today's session.

Welcome Kim and thank you for being with us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


Kim Vásconez: Good morning or afternoon to everyone, depending upon where you are. I am honored to be here and able to discuss a report that we issued on June 1, 2006, titled Catastrophic Hurricane Evacuation Plan Evaluation: A Report to Congress. Before I get into a discussion of the report, I'd also like to introduce Laurie Radow of our team. She is our program manager for Planned Special Events area of ETO. She also participated with me on the Report to Congress.

The U.S. Department of Transportation produced the report based on a request by Congress and in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This was a companion effort to DHS' National Plan Review. We just did a more focused study in a limited area on evacuation planning.

How did USDOT become involved in evaluating evacuation plans? Hurricane Katrina riveted the nation's attention toward the suffering occurring in the Gulf States at the same time that Congress was finalizing the new Surface Transportation authorizing legislation, known as SAFTEA-LU, and the FY 2006 Appropriations Act. The request to produce the report was written into Section 10204 of the SAFETEA-LU legislation. As an end result, USDOT completed a study of evacuation plans from Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida and 55 counties and parishes in those States.

USDOT also reviewed sheltering plans from Oklahoma, Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas. Reviewers looked at plans from emergency management agencies, transportation agencies, state police, the American Red Cross, and other organizations involved in various aspects of evacuation and sheltering. The report was released to Congress on June 1, 2006. It can be found at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/reports/hurricanevacuation/ .

The study involved all modes of transportation within USDOT, so included representatives from highway, transit, rail, motor carriers, maritime, and air. The reviewers analyzed and reviewed existing guidance and literature on the subject, developed evaluation criteria, assessed plans and related documents, conducted interviews with key officials, identified best practices and lessons learned, then developed findings and recommendations.

In general, we looked at seven key elements in reviewing how robust plans were in the areas of Decision Making and Management, Planning, Public Communication and Preparedness, Special Needs, Operations, Sheltering Considerations, and Training and Exercise.

What were our findings? It is important to note that the study combined the findings to make general assessments in the areas described above. Individual States are mentioned only related to best practices and lessons learned that would be helpful to other entities. I'm now going to give you key findings in each of the seven categories we reviewed.


Federal, State, and local emergency plans and operations are not well integrated. Some plans do not include sufficient detail to ensure their effective execution. Local agreements were not sufficient for Katrina-magnitude incident because neighboring jurisdictions were also inundated and unable to provide timely assistance.

During a catastrophic event involving many jurisdictions and several States, decision-making regarding the priorities, timing, and routes for evacuations is generally not coordinated throughout the impacted region, and critical decisions may be delayed.


Evacuations involve many different agencies at both the State and local level. Each of these agencies typically has its own plans and SOPs and no one agency may have all the evacuation-related plans. This makes coordination difficult, especially for catastrophic events that include elements that may be in no one's plan.

Transportation is a key part of evacuations, but emergency management or public safety agencies often do the planning and lead the decision-making without sufficient involvement from transportation agencies. There needs to be better planning for services en route for evacuees including fuel, water, food shelter, and medical services.


State and local governments must do more to communicate with and prepare their residents and visitors on who has to evacuate, when and why and provide critical information on routes, services along the routes, shelter locations and other guidance to encourage evacuation.

People need to understand the differences between hurricane watches/warnings, voluntary vs. mandatory evacuations and other terms emergency managers think are well understood but may not be. Communications must be accessible to the disabled as well as those with little English proficiency and people who are hard to reach such as migrant workers and the homeless.


The report highlights Special Needs findings. It found that more planning must be conducted to accommodate special needs populations in an evacuation. Most in Gulf Coast Region don't have evacuation plans that include special needs people not in a medical facility or nursing home.

Plans often define special needs too narrowly. Major institutions, such as prisons and hospitals, evacuated their facilities, but their evacuation plans are often not coordinated with emergency management offices so responders do not know whether the plans function together.

Transportation alone is not sufficient. It is critical to know the intended destinations for evacuees so proper provisions for transport can be made.


The report studied Emergency Transportation Operations and found that Intelligent Transportation Systems--or what we call ITS--capabilities are very useful in an evacuation. Traffic monitoring and motorist information services into more rural areas and along major evacuation routes could provide an excellent means of communicating with evacuees.

Contraflow operations can be very effective but requires substantial planning and coordination with adjacent States. Catastrophic evacuations can quickly overwhelm State and local transportation resources.

Evacuation plans need to give greater consideration to the use of all available modes of transportation. Fuel, food, water, and emergency medical services should be provided along evacuation routes.


Sheltering is not typically something we consider in emergency transportation. However, there were clear linkages during the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita operations that demonstrate that we must link transportation plans and communication with sheltering plan and operations.

Existing mutual aid agreements covering sheltering may be insufficient for a catastrophic event. Evacuees with special needs should be transported to shelters equipped to meet those needs. Many shelters currently do not accept pets because of State health and safety regulations. Railroads and other modes of public transportation must have confirmed destinations where they will transport evacuees.


Training and exercises are critical to practice established procedures, processes and agency relationships. All Gulf Coast States indicate a commitment to exercise, drill and training programs.

Most training and exercise plans do not include representatives from other states or the federal government and do not test plans against catastrophic events.


The study offers several recommendations, as follows: Public entities should develop regional catastrophic plans for mass evacuations, and they should be developed jointly (State and local officials) in cooperation with Federal agencies officials; shelter and transportation providers; managers of hospitals, nursing homes, jails, and other institutions with own evacuation plans; and reps of various special needs populations.

The Federal government should update the National Response Plan, State and Local Guide 101, concepts of operations for the various ESFs and other evacuation-related planning guidance to cover the special requirements of mass evacuations from events the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina.

Jurisdictions should develop and deploy systems to provide information to evacuees and emergency managers during evacuations on the status of traffic, shelters, fuel, and other services along evacuation routes.

State and local agencies should work with special needs communities to develop systems in advance to address specialized transportation or sheltering services.

Transportation agencies and operators should be more directly involved in key aspects of emergency and evacuation planning and implementation.

Directly integrate sheltering requirements for all segments of the population and evacuees by all modes of transportation in evacuation planning. Consider transportation and sheltering of pets during an evacuation.

Conduct Regional exercises regularly to test plans and decision making for different mass evacuation scenarios to ensure that Federal, State, and local agencies are prepared to respond to different types of catastrophic events.

These are serious findings and recommendations. But, it is important to note that the report is chock full of best practices and lessons learned from the states that were impacted by Katrina and Rita. They are working tirelessly on addressing the challenges they faced in evacuating their people.

FHWA and DOT are partnering in this effort. FHWA partnered with the State of Florida DOT, I-95 Corridor Coalition, American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials-or AASHTO- to conduct a Contraflow Workshop.

We are working to enhance our coordination with partners and are encouraging the emergency management community to involve transportation professional in planning and to energize transportation officials in actively participating in planning and emergency operations.

We have conducted a Gap Analysis to Determine Opportunities for ITS to support Improved Mass Evacuation Operations. And, we are developing many emergency transportation operations-including evacuation-specific documents.

I'd like to highlight the soon to be released Routes to Effective Evacuation Planning Primer Series, which will address highway and multi-modal planning considerations for events with notice and those with no notice.

We will be releasing soon "Best Practices in ETO Preparedness and Response: Results of 2002-2005 FHWA Workshops - Pedestrian Evacuation; and Signal Timing for Evacuation Operations."

Finally, we will be conducting training on evacuation plan development and writing Scopes of Work for contractors working on your plans in 2007. We are revamping our website, but you can periodically check the FHWA ETO website http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/opssecurity for new publications.

Also, we recommend everyone to view the DHS Lessons Learned Information System at http://www.llis.gov. There they have a special section on mass evacuations.

In closing, there are very few experts in the field of mass evacuations. Evacuation planning must consider three primary players: emergency managers, public safety officials, and transportation officials.

In the post Hurricane Katrina period, many organizations are duplicating efforts, but we expect some significant national progress in addressing evacuation challenges identified in the Gulf State Study. I'll be happy to give more detail on the process and what the reviewers looked at off-line through follow-up correspondence and my email address is [email protected]

In the meantime, I'd like to open the line for questions, and turn the session back over to our Moderator to start us off.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Kim. Now, to proceed to your questions and comments.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Anne Culver: Hi, all. Kim, you mentioned pets. One of the issues in evacuations involves animals. Nothing can slow your evacuation faster than an overturned horse trailer. These people need to know to leave early, and your help in putting out the word will help all of us. Also, people trying to return home to get their animals: if they were better prepared and knew in the first place where and how to evacuate, they would not have to go back for them.

By the way, the main reason shelters don’t accept pets is lack of planning and training to do so, and in some cases insurance. Pet-friendly shelters exist all over the country. We offer planning and training support.

Kim Vásconez: Thanks, Anne. I have seen many reports that have raised the issue of managing pet evacuations. I read a recent one from the GAO that hasn't been published yet. I think everyone is of the mind that it must be addressed in evacuation plans not only for those that use them as service but also pet owners who feel conflicted about leaving without them.

Amy Sebring: Anne is with the Humane Society and we have a transcript of a previous session with her. [See http://www.emforum.org/vforum/lc040407.htm ]

Becca Nagorsky: I'm curious what your research found on evacuation of the elderly, both those who are still driving but whose driving skills are in decline, and those who have given up their cars but are reluctant to use public transit.

Kim Vásconez: We have found that most plans have not fully addressed those that are transit dependent. We know that the elderly who are not in nursing homes and are self-reliant need additional help.

Deborah Matherly: With regards to outreach for special needs populations, Centers for Disease Control has a draft guidebook on outreach for emergencies from the Public Health perspective- others might find it useful to tap into that resource. [See http://www.bt.cdc.gov/workbook/pdf/ph_workbook_draft.pdf .] With regards to pets, the plan we are developing for Baltimore Metropolitan Council specifically includes pets in reception centers and shelters; we've yet to address those pets on transit. BMC plan isn't complete yet, but as soon as it is I will send the link to this site.

Kim Vásconez: There is work being done in this area. These are great resources, Deborah. I think we'd all benefit from links to these documents. You are right. The pet on transit issue needs to be addressed. Laurie Radow and I will be meeting with Federal Transit on a variety of topics. The issue of pets on transit will be one of them. We plan to publish an evacuation primer on those with special mobility needs in the next few months. Pets will be incorporated in it.

Anne Culver: You all can get more info about the issues and preparedness at our web site http://www.hsus.org/disaster . Also, http://www.DisasterEduation.org has standard messages on all hazard topics and includes info about animals in every one. . I would love to see the GAO report. The PETS legislation has raised consciousness a bit on these issues. A lot of the people not wanting to leave pets are elderly with no family other than the pet and no transport. Deborah, we will get in touch with you to help on that.

Kim Vásconez: Also, there was a Harvard study released in July that explains why people do or don't evacuate. Pets and transporting pets is raised in that. You can link to the Harvard Study from our website [or see it directly at http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/press/releases/press07202006.html ].

Atri Sen: Hi Kim: What is ETO's role in bringing together the EM and Transportation communities at state/local levels, if any? Based on our experience here in Louisiana, though it has improved in the past year, these entities seem to be playing at different fields.

Kim Vásconez: Atri, you are right. FHWA is partnering with DHS to work jointly on these issues. This is one of the reasons that someone with my background was brought on the team. We have coalition building as a top priority. We also have a former State Trooper on staff now that will provide linkages with public safety. You will see movement in collaborating on these issues in the near future.

Atri Sen: Which directorate of DHS are you working with? Preparedness, Response?

Kim Vásconez: Atri, we are working with Preparedness to begin with, but I plan to begin building bridges--excuse the pun--soon with Response. I used to work for that org until a few years ago.

Frank Kriz: Kim, one of the problems we face here in Arizona is that we have extremely limited hwy capabilities. If we were to have to evacuate the Phoenix metro area, projects are that it would take us a minimum of three days using full contraflow and at least five days without. In addition, part of our heartburn with this whole process is the fact that unlike the East Coast we have approx. 3.5 million in the Phoenix metro area but the county itself is nearly 9,300 square miles. My question is how do we get the feds to understand that what works or is required for one area is not necessarily practical for another?

Kim Vásconez: Thanks, Frank. We are sensitive to this issue. That is why we plan to do Regional training that will address the special circumstances and constraints by regions.

Frank Kriz: I understand that but unfortunately that has not been reflected in the evaluations or requirements.

Amy Sebring: Kim, the report notes the challenge of funding the hurricane evacuation studies that are usually done by the Army Corps of Engineers. In Texas, for example, at one time there was an estimate that it would take 10 years to update all the study areas (only one out of 5 has been completed). We also need interstate or inter-regional studies. Is there likely to be any additional funding made available in the future; or any other planning going on in that regard?

Kim Vásconez: Amy, we recognize that there are various funding sources. One of the reasons we are beginning work with the Preparedness Directorate in DHS and FTA in DOT is that there is grant funding being given to the States and locals without clear guidance on how best to use the funding. We hope to pull that all together to find out what's out there. The GAO study I referenced earlier talks about some of the various sources of funding to help States and locals develop evacuation plans, particularly addressing Special Needs populations.

John Renne: As we prepare to evacuate cities, we will have the problem of calling for an evacuation too early. Especially here in New Orleans, there is little money to stage an evacuation if the local government doesn't get reimbursed. The transit authority is nearly bankrupt and we might not even have transit service after November of this year. What can local governments do to ensure that FEMA will reimburse them, even if a hurricane takes a turn and doesn't hit. Also, how can there be better coordination across the local, county, and state governments across the Gulf and Atlantic to better prepare.

Kim Vásconez: We are sensitive to this. I've worked many disasters where evacuations were considered and the financial constraints and potential financial losses without guarantees of reimbursement are a consideration in making these decisions. We addressed it in our study and I hope to work with individuals in DOT and DHS to come up with a solution.

Frank Kriz: I guess part of the state and local concerns are that we always seem to be behind the eight ball. No matter how much money you throw at something, things like this take extensive time. By the time we begin to get a handle on one issue, something else in the country happens and we have to change gears. I for one would like to see the federal level lead the way in preparedness rather then being always reactive.

Kim Vásconez: I agree. DOT will do its part in offering potential solutions as we collectively work through the evacuation planning and preparedness.

Anne Culver: Where can we see all these various web sites and reports? Will there be links here? This is such a great forum. Thanks.

Kim Vásconez: We will provide links on our website that will be in the transcript but I recommend going to the Lessons Learned Information System (LLIS) from DHS. DHS sponsors this. There is an evacuation section where they are trying to consolidate all reference materials. FHWA will be using this site since it reaches EM and first responders.

Edwina Juillet: "Why We Don't Prepare" by Amanda Ripley/Boulder, Sunday August 20, 2006 Time Magazine is a thought provoking article (although it is not focused on my topic of persons with disabilities) [See http://strweb1-12.websys.aol.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1229102,00.html]

Atri Sen: How do you suggest local agencies (DOTs) go about in getting more funding for emergency preparedness related efforts? Also, are Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) being supported monetarily for their HLS related efforts mandated by SAFETEA-LU?

Kim Vásconez: There are various grants available through DHS, DOT. We still need to work on this and hope to be able to provide ideas at a later time.

Amy Sebring: To follow up on Atri's question, what role should the MPOs play in this? Do they have a mandate?

Kim Vásconez: I need to go back to a couple of documents on the role of the MPOs. There are pots of money that they can access to help with evacuation planning; don't quote me on this yet, but I think I can recall the reference. Anyone interested, send me an email.

Frank Kriz: Well to complete my thought, I am having a problem with coordination at the federal level. It involves the underlying fact that we have, as you mentioned earlier, a disconnect between all of the players and that seems to be a major problem.

Amy Sebring: I have a question that pertains to what Frank is talking about. Kim, the report did not address 'no notice' type evacuations, but I gather some guidance will be coming for these scenarios. Can you tell us anything about the planning assumptions used? Requirements?

Kim Vásconez: Thanks, Amy. We will be working the no-notice angle and are producing a primer on it. Certainly, we have to factor in law enforcement and homeland security when it comes to terrorist or malevolent acts. However, earthquakes and hazmat incidents also qualify as no-notice. No-Notice is our next project.

Avagene Moore: Kim, you mentioned a soon to be released "Routes to Effective Evacuation Planning Primer Series" and future workshops with a couple of named topics. Pardon my confusion; please clarify - (1) is the Primer Series part of the workshop effort or documents for download? Also, (2) who is the audience and what type of schedule and promotion are planned to conduct the workshops for good coverage across the country?

Kim Vásconez: The first primer will be available electronically in three weeks. Audiences for the primers are emergency managers, transportation professionals and first responders. All documents will be available on our website and the LLIS.

Let me clarify further. There was a series of workshops conducted around the country from 2003 to 2005. We have produced a report on best practices and lessons learned. It is in editing and should be out in a couple of weeks. The workshops in 2007 will involve training on the primers that will be coming out and providing technical assistance on how to put together an evacuation plan.

Edwina Juillet: Kim, my particular interest is the planning for/with persons 'with disabilities’. Referencing the Nationwide Plan Review Phase 2 Report, pages 41 - 45 is the report of our findings on the topic of plans and 'Special Needs Populations' (not my preferred term). This was done in parallel with DOT, right?

Kim Vásconez: Since both reports were done at the same time, there was not as much collaboration as we would like; however, some that worked on the DOT report also worked on the NPR report. I cannot speak about the DHS NPR study but I can say that there is a forthcoming report on supporting Special Needs Populations. And I agree, not the best of terms. I'm trying to use ‘people with mobility challenges.’

Deborah Matherly: There has been some discussion in our region on the pros and cons of establishing registries of persons with disabilities- some suggest it creates the expectation of "rescue", decreases personal planning with one's own network, and raises concerns of confidentiality, while others say it is necessary for public safety and an essential part of responsible planning. What is your experience in this area?

Kim Vásconez: I wish the GAO report were published. The report synopsizes all of the concerns about the privacy issue and tracking those with special requirements.

Ray Pena: Three observations: (1) seems our chat room etiquette has gone away, including from me! (2) there should be one more major player involved in the evac planning effort--the public in all its forms. (3) Finally, if evacuation is a major issue in your community, it should be supported first by your community, not first and foremost by the feds. Whatever help the feds can provide should be supplemental, not primary.

Kim Vásconez: Absolutely. I agree with public involvement at the local level and our "Feds" role as a support to States and locals.

John Murray: Kim, we have a very active evacuation planning effort ongoing that gives specific consideration to special needs and pets; however, it is being done on a shoe sting budget. Can you provide more information regarding the "pots of money" you referenced, and specifically those that are not associated with Homeland Security grants? Also, are there federal funds that can be used to fund evacuation route flow rate studies? One of the problems we identified with Rita is all the previous estimates were badly flawed.

Kim Vásconez: John, I certainly see this as an area where we could help. However, I need to complete more research on what is available and where before I can answer this definitively.

Atri Sen: Kim, do you plan to consider some of the existing Federal programs like the CSEPP (Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program) best practices for no-notice/terrorism kind events in re evacuation planning? There's 14 years of analyses amd planning that has gone into that program, including mass evacuation. Lots to be learned based on our 14 years with the program. Also, DHS already funds evacuation plan development training series. Is the 2007 workshop from the same agency?

Kim Vásconez: Atri, I'm glad you raised this. Laurie has established a partnership with the NRC, which has produced a 10.5 year study on evacuations. They say that an evacuation of 1,000 or more occurs in the U.S. every 2-3 weeks. As a result of our work with them we recognize that we should be working with CSEPP.

Linda Underwood: Is there a role for CERT? (Community Emergency Response Team)

Kim Vásconez: Linda, yes, there is a role for CERT. Certainly they can help emergency planners in providing a public view, information on special needs populations and training. I think the CERT program is a wonderful and underutilized tool.

Amy Sebring: Any national connection with Citizen Corps Kim? That is, are they partnering in this effort?

Kim Vásconez: Not right now, but it is in my plans to connect with them.

John Renne: Can I put a plug in for a National Conference I'm planning that will address evacuation issues in New Orleans, Feb. 8 & 9, 2007: http://www.carlessevacuation.org/ .


Amy Sebring: Let's wrap it up for today. Thank you very much Kim for an excellent job. Also thanks to Laurie for joining us. Please stand by a moment while we make a couple of quick announcements. Again, the formatted transcript will be available later today. If you are not on our mailing list and would like to get notices of future sessions and availability of transcripts, just go to our home page to subscribe.

We are pleased to welcome two new Partners today -- Crisis Consulting Group; http://www.globalccg.com ; POC: Domenic Tesoriero, CEO and The Durango Group, LLC from Durango, CO; http://www.durangogroup.com ; POC: Charles "Buck" Buchanan, Director of Operations and Business Development. If your organization is interested in becoming a Partner, please see the link on our homepage.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. Kim, any final comment?

Kim Vásconez: Thank you so much Amy for having me. I'd like to leave one thought. To do effective evacuation planning and to be able to execute when needed, requires a partnership between Emergency Managers, first responders and transportation professionals. Please engage your DOTs or transportation professionals in your planning, training and operations. They have a lot to offer. Thanks again and have a great day.

Amy Sebring: Thanks, and we hoped you enjoyed the experience Kim. For first-timers, we hope you also found the program valuable and will come again. We stand adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Kim for a wonderful job.