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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation 1 Introduction Emergency response and evacuation planning took on new urgency following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and, more recently, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This study had its origins in the critical role played by transit1 in helping to evacuate some 1.2 million workers and residents of Lower Manhattan following the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center during the morning rush hour. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New Jersey Transit began shuttling passengers out of the affected area and also rushed employees, buses, and equipment to the World Trade Center site to support emergency responders. In Washington, D.C., shutdown of the federal government following the strike on the Pentagon clogged the road network. Metrorail became the mode of choice for transport from the area, evacuating several hundred thousand people from Washington and Northern Virginia within a few hours. Even so, immediately after the Pentagon strike, police and senior local and federal public officials gave Metro conflicting orders. One senior official demanded that the system be shut down out of fear of further terrorism, while others wanted to requisition transit cars to move emergency equipment. New Orleans had an emergency plan to rely on transit for the 100,000 to 200,000 New Orleans residents estimated to be without means of private transportation, but the plan failed utterly during Hurricane Katrina because few drivers reported to work; equipment was inadequate; and, perhaps most important, communications and incident command were nonexistent. In Houston, METRO played an important role in helping to evacuate the transit-dependent and assisting motorists in advance of Hurricane Rita, but the arrangements were ad hoc, 1 Transit, public transit, mass transit, and public transportation are frequently used interchangeably. This study uses the term “transit,” which is broadly defined as indicated in the text.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation and the overall evacuation left thousands of motorists stranded on the highways. Study Charge, Scope, and Audience The purpose of this study is to examine how the potentially critical role of transit can best be fulfilled in an emergency evacuation. The study request originated with Congressman William Pascrell, Jr., who represents northern New Jersey, and was included in the most recent reauthorization of surface transportation legislation—the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (see Appendix A).2 Having witnessed the critical role of transit in the events of September 11, Congressman Pascrell noted that redundancy among transportation modes is important in an emergency but that transit is frequently overlooked in emergency planning. Hence, the charge to the committee that conducted this study was to evaluate the role that the public transportation systems serving the 38 largest urbanized areas in the United States could play in the nation’s security, and …assess the ability of such systems to accommodate the evacuation, egress, and ingress of people to or from critical locations in times of emergency. For the purposes of this study, transit is defined broadly to include bus and rail systems, paratransit and demand-responsive transit, commuter rail, and ferries, whether publicly operated or privately contracted.3 Highways and their capacity are also considered because many transit systems provide only bus service and must share the highways with private vehicles during an emergency evacuation. Given the resources made available for the study, it is limited to those transit properties serving the 38 largest urbanized areas 2 Initially, Congressman Pascrell sought to have security added to the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program as a selection criterion. This program helps pay for designing and constructing rail, bus, and trolley projects through federal grants that cannot exceed 80 percent of the estimated net cost of a project. Congressman Pascrell’s proposal failed to garner sufficient votes—thus his decision to recommend a study. 3 Transit here does not include services provided by private operators, such as intercity bus, taxi, and shuttle services, although the committee recognizes that they may also play an important role in emergency evacuation.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation (UAs)4 in the United States—a proxy for those systems serving populations larger than 1 million. The rationale is that many of these areas are vulnerable to major emergencies that could require an evacuation, so they are more likely than smaller UAs to have emergency response and evacuation plans in place. Moreover, many of these areas have sizable transit systems, or even multiple systems, and hence the capacity for transit to play a major role in the event of an emergency evacuation. Therefore, the largest UAs are likely to yield good examples of best practice for other areas. In light of its charge, the committee focused this study primarily on the role of transit in evacuation, in the transport of emergency personnel and equipment to an emergency site, and in recovery. Several other issues are important to successful emergency response and evacuation, such as sheltering issues (where to take evacuees who use transit) and interfaces with local enforcement officials (to provide security at assembly points and drop-off locations). These issues are noted in the report, but they are not studied in any depth because the committee believes they are tangential to its primary charge. The study is also focused on major incidents that could necessitate a significant evacuation from the central business district or other location in a UA and in which meeting the associated surge demands and coordination requirements is likely to strain the capacity of a single jurisdiction or transit agency (see Figure 1-1). Emergency responders and the general public are familiar with localized incidents, which are relatively contained, can be handled in a matter of hours, and typically do not involve an evacuation. An examination of larger incidents is more likely to illuminate the command structure, communications systems, and coordination capabilities necessary for transit and other agencies to operate as successful partners in an emergency evacuation. The primary audiences for this report are congressional staff and the Federal Transit Administration sponsors, as well as transit operators, emergency managers, and state and local departments of transportation. The report 4 For Census 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau classified as “urban” all territory, population, and housing units located within a UA or an urban cluster (UC). According to the Census Bureau, UA and UC boundaries encompass densely settled territory, which consists of (a) core census block groups or blocks that have a population density of at least 1,000 people per square mile and (b) surrounding census blocks that have an overall density of at least 500 people per square mile.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation FIGURE 1-1 Scale of emergency incident and appropriate level of response. (Graphic used with permission of the Maryland Department of Transportation.) identifies critical success factors and necessary steps for achieving an expanded role for transit in emergency evacuation. It also suggests the limits to using transit, particularly if the transit system itself is compromised in an emergency. Study Approach Conceptual Framework Figure 1-2 depicts the conceptual framework for the study, which is organized around the four major elements of effective emergency planning—mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. The figure lists the major factors affecting an area’s ability to respond to an emergency: the type of event—advance-notice (e.g., hurricane) or no-notice (e.g., terrorist incident, earthquake); the characteristics of the urban area (e.g., population size, density, socioeconomic characteristics); geographic characteristics, in particular any constraints, such as limited access
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation FIGURE 1-2 Factors affecting local emergency response capacity. to a mainland location; political characteristics (e.g., the number of jurisdictions that must coordinate in an emergency); behavioral characteristics (e.g., the willingness of citizens to heed evacuation orders); and available resources. The figure also notes the factors that affect transit’s likely response in an emergency: the potential demand for transit services, which in turn depends largely on the socioeconomic characteristics of the population (i.e., the extent of transit dependence), and the available supply of transit personnel and equipment, which could involve the coordinated response of several transit properties. Finally,
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation the figure shows that transit providers must coordinate closely with a range of other governmental units, and in some cases the private sector, in an emergency evacuation. Study Tasks The above conceptual framework helped shape the committee’s approach to the three tasks included in its charge: (a) review of the existing literature, (b) analysis of the state and regional emergency response and evacuation plans of the 38 largest UAs, and (c) the conduct of case studies. Each task is discussed in turn below. The study began with a literature review to determine what could be learned from previous studies about the role of transit in emergency evacuation. The committee sought evidence from a broad range of situations—from such advance-notice incidents as hurricane evacuations and transport of crowds for major planned tourist events (e.g., use of transit in Fourth of July celebrations) to such no-notice emergencies as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The review included the perspectives of both the populations served by transit (e.g., commuters, the carless) and the capacity of the transit and highway systems to handle an emergency evacuation. While casting a broad net, however, the committee could find few studies focused specifically on the role of transit in emergency evacuation. This report summarizes the available evidence, which is used to identify key factors that appear to be critical to the successful use of transit in an emergency evacuation. The second study task was to identify and assess the existing emergency response and evacuation plans of the UAs that are the primary focus of this study. Initially, the committee had hoped to draw on the congressionally mandated emergency plan reviews of the 75 largest UAs and all states (DHS 2006) conducted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but confidentiality issues prevented DHS from sharing that information in other than summary form. The committee drew on other relevant work, but there were many gaps to fill.5 To that end, the committee initiated its own 5 The Federal Transit Administration shared the results and selected source documents of a study completed by Milligan & Company, LLC (Bailey et al. 2007) on emergency preparedness plans for minority, low-income, and limited-English-proficient persons without vehicles in 20 metropolitan regions. John Renne, Associate Director of the University of New Orleans Transportation Center, also shared research in progress on disaster plans for the carless for many urban areas.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation plan assessment by developing a profile for each of the UAs, with indicators of many of the factors outlined in Figure 1-2 that affect response capability. Available plans were then accessed for each of the non–case study UAs and their respective states, and a summary spreadsheet of responses to key questions about the role of transit (or lack thereof) in emergency evacuation plans was prepared. For budgetary reasons, this review was limited to documents in the public domain that are generally available online. The committee made a limited number of follow-up calls to those UAs for which plans could not readily be located, but security-sensitive plans and those in the process of being updated were not included. Hence, the committee’s assessment provides only a partial picture of the evacuation readiness of these UAs and their inclusion of transit in emergency evacuation plans. The committee’s final task was to conduct five in-depth case studies as a complement to its more summary plan assessment. The committee drew on the conceptual framework depicted in Figure 1-2 in selecting the case study sites. At a minimum, the committee was interested in selecting areas that have different types of transit systems (e.g., rail, bus), face different types of emergencies (e.g., hurricanes, terrorist events, earthquakes), are located in different regions of the country, have a high percentage of special-needs populations (e.g., the carless, the disabled, others needing special assistance in an evacuation), and would experience different jurisdictional issues in an evacuation (e.g., coordination of multiple transit providers, multiple jurisdictions, multiple states). In addition, while focusing on the largest UAs, the committee was interested in selecting at least one smaller, less-studied area among the 38. The purpose of the case studies was to provide a more in-depth understanding of the current or potential role of transit in different emergency evacuation circumstances. More specifically, the committee hoped the case studies would help illuminate (a) how emergency managers can include transit in emergency plans more effectively and (b) how transit operators themselves can better organize to be ready to assist in an emergency evacuation. Key Issues In undertaking its work, the committee noted several key issues that, in its judgment, have a significant effect on the role of transit in emergency evacuation.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation First, the scale of the incident matters. The larger and more catastrophic the incident, the greater are the surge capacity requirements not only of the transit system but also of the transportation system in general in an emergency evacuation. In the event of a catastrophic emergency, is evacuation of a large portion of a major metropolitan area a realistic goal? What role can transit reasonably play in such a situation? Second, the type of incident is important. Events that occur with some regularity, such as hurricanes—even though there is uncertainty about their trajectory and intensity—are easier to plan for than unexpected events, such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the case of the former events, affected areas typically have evacuation plans in place, including predesignated evacuation routes and destinations, as well as considerable experience with handling incidents that has resulted in plan modifications. In areas that face a multitude of different threats, emergency managers are focused on procedures and flexible plans that can be modified once the type of incident and its extent become clear. This capability requires sophisticated coordination and communications in which transit agencies must be a partner. Third, the role transit can play in an emergency evacuation depends on its size relative to the UA, the mutual-aid agreements it has forged with other providers, and the representation of its key staff in the incident command structure. In addition, transit’s response depends on the time of an incident (e.g., during or after peak hours); the day of the week; the duration of the event; and, of course, whether the system itself is compromised. For example, surge capacity needs are probably greatest if the incident occurs during the morning or afternoon peak. However, personnel and equipment are at their maximum capacity during these times. During off-peak hours, such as midday, it takes time to recall people and equipment in the event of an emergency requiring evacuation. Similarly, an event that simply requires shifting service away from a particular area or even conducting a partial evacuation places far less demand on the system than one that requires a large-scale evacuation, multiple trips to take customers and the carless out of the area, and potential diversion of some equipment to help support emergency responders. Finally, transit can play a unique role in the evacuation of special-needs populations, ranging from those who simply lack access to a private vehicle to those who may need special assistance (e.g., the disabled, the elderly). The difficulty lies in identifying these populations and their specific trans-
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation portation needs, matching these needs to appropriate transit service providers, and ensuring that the providers are available during an emergency. Moreover, keeping this information up to date is both costly and challenging, particularly in large UAs. In conducting this study, the committee was mindful of each of the above issues and the complexities that result. Organization of the Report The results of the three main study tasks are described in the chapters that follow. Chapter 2 provides a brief overview of emergency planning in general and evacuation planning in particular to set the stage for the subsequent chapters. Chapter 3 elaborates on the factors that affect the role of transit in an emergency evacuation and reports on the findings of the committee’s literature review to augment and illustrate these characteristics. Chapter 4 is focused on the 38 UAs, including the results of the committee’s plan assessment and case studies; findings are drawn from both. The fifth and final chapter summarizes the committee’s judgment regarding the factors critical to enhancing transit’s role in emergency evacuation, as well as the limits on the use of transit and complementary measures necessary to increase the capacity and resilience of the transportation system within which transit operates. This chapter presents the committee’s recommendations and suggestions for supporting research, along with action steps needed at the federal, state, and local levels. References Abbreviation DHS U.S. Department of Homeland Security Bailey, D., S. Swiacki, A. Byrnes, J. Buckley, D. King, V. Piper, M. Marino, S. Mundle, G. Pierlott, and A. Lynd. 2007. Transportation Equity in Emergencies: A Review of the Practices of State Departments of Transportation, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and Transit Agencies in 20 Metropolitan Areas. Final Report. FTA-PA-26-8001-2007. Milligan & Company, LLC, and Mundle & Associates, Philadelphia, Pa., May. DHS. 2006. Nationwide Plan Review, Phase 2 Report. Washington, D.C., June 16. www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/Prep_NationwidePlanReview.pdf.