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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation 3 The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation As noted in Chapter 2, transit agencies have the potential to play a role in each phase of emergency planning—mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. The extent to which this role can be fulfilled, particularly in an evacuation, depends on many factors, including the characteristics of the urban area in which a transit system operates, the characteristics of an emergency incident, the predisposition of the public, available resources, and the characteristics of the transit system itself. These factors are explored in this chapter. The results of a literature review conducted for this study are also discussed for the light they shed on the role of transit in emergency evacuation. The following chapter considers the role of transit in the 38 largest urbanized areas that are the primary focus of this study. Factors Affecting the Role of Transit in an Emergency The potential role of transit in an emergency evacuation is affected by both external and internal factors (see Box 3-1). These factors are discussed in detail below. Characteristics of the Urban Area Transit’s capacity to respond to an emergency is strongly influenced by the physical, socioeconomic, and political characteristics of the urban area in which it operates, many of which also affect the size and composition of transit’s ridership in general. For example, population size and density affect transit’s capacity to respond in an emergency and the speed of that response. Large and densely populated urbanized areas tend to have large regional transit systems with good service coverage that regularly move large numbers of passengers, particularly at peak periods. In a large urbanized area, however, the potential volume of passengers to be moved in a major emergency could well exceed peak-period volumes, taxing the capacity of local transit systems. High
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation Box 3-1 Factors That Affect the Response of Transit Agencies in an Emergency Evacuation Characteristics of the Urban Area Population characteristics Population size Population density Spatial concentration of transit-dependent populations Socioeconomic characteristics Elderly population People with disabilities Low-income population Immigrant populations Geographic characteristics Size of transportation network Constraints on evacuation routes Political and institutional characteristics Jurisdictional complexity/fragmentation Leadership and experienced personnel Characteristics of the Emergency Likelihood of occurrence Advance-notice/no-notice Type (natural, human-caused) Scope (local, regional, multistate) Time (on- or off-peak, weekday or weekend) Duration (hours, days, months) Behavioral Characteristics Experience with emergency incidents and transit use Cultural factors Trust and credibility Resources Technology Mutual-aid agreements Funding for planning and emergency exercises Characteristics of the Transit System Size of system Coverage of service area Modal mix and flexibility of transit system Type of service (directly provided or contracted out) Condition and capacity of transit system Integration of transit agency into local emergency command structure Integrity of the system in an emergency
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation population density compounds the problem because transit agencies must manage large numbers of evacuees who congregate at transit stations, bus stops, or other preestablished assembly points for transport out of the affected area. On the other hand, in urban areas where transit service and ridership are limited, the use of transit in an emergency evacuation is also likely to be limited and focused on those populations served by the system (e.g., lower-income groups, immigrants). The spatial concentration of transit-dependent populations in an urban area is a factor as well. Regular transit service may not provide adequate service for these populations in an emergency, so that more drivers and equipment must be shifted to these locations for an evacuation. Transit has a unique role to play in the evacuation of transit-dependent and vulnerable populations—frequently termed special-needs populations—who may lack access to a private vehicle and may also need assistance in evacuating. Vulnerable populations include those with disabilities, the elderly, the medically homebound, and poor or immigrant populations who are dependent on transit for transport. The way special-needs populations are defined varies among urban areas: some definitions are limited to those who need medical attention (but not hospitalization) in an emergency, while others include anyone who may lack access to a private vehicle (e.g., transit commuters, tourists) or who chooses not to use such a vehicle during an emergency. These differences in how urban areas characterize special-needs populations can either limit or expand the potential role of transit in meeting the needs of these populations in an emergency evacuation. Moreover, matching transit services with those needs is a major challenge because the different populations to be served vary greatly in both the type of transport and the assistance they require in an emergency evacuation (e.g., those who are ambulatory and can access fixed-route transit versus many elderly people and those with disabilities who require specially trained operators and accessible equipment). Transit agencies are likely to be hard pressed to accommodate those who need special assistance because these services are often contracted out to smaller paratransit operators or demand-responsive service providers. In an emergency evacuation, these specialized providers often face competing demands for their services1 and 1 In some urban areas, these specialized providers also serve and may be involved in the evacuation of assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation have limited drivers and equipment that may not be available to provide the necessary emergency service. In addition, many special-needs groups (e.g., the elderly, those with disabilities) are spatially dispersed and thus difficult to reach quickly and efficiently in an emergency evacuation. The geography of an urban area affects the configuration of the transportation network (e.g., highway and transit rail systems) and the capacity to evacuate both by private vehicle and by transit. Large urban areas with high-capacity transportation systems and lower population densities (e.g., Houston) generally have the best prospects for successful evacuation. Even in these areas, however, capacity bottlenecks (e.g., at critical interchanges) and more limited highway and transit capacity in suburban and exurban areas—important considerations in a regional evacuation—can reduce evacuation capacity, as was demonstrated by the evacuation prior to Hurricane Rita. Geographical barriers pose another challenge. Urban areas bounded by water, for example, may have limited egress routes that can become heavily congested in an evacuation unless provision has been made for managing traffic and for expediting bus travel, particularly if round-trips are planned for buses. During the regional evacuation experienced in advance of Hurricane Rita, evacuees from low-lying coastal areas in Galveston and Houston that are vulnerable to flooding and storm surge were ordered to evacuate first, but many had to travel through the heavily populated Houston urban area, which was also starting to evacuate; the result was massive congestion on area freeways. A similar situation exists in many coastal counties in Florida that must evacuate through neighboring inland counties. To reduce demand in these areas, emergency managers are encouraging sheltering in place when it is safe to do so. Finally, political and institutional factors influence the potential role of transit in an emergency evacuation, particularly one that is large-scale. The jurisdictional complexity of many urban areas—the large numbers of counties and municipalities (e.g., in Los Angeles) and even multiple states (e.g., in the New York urban area) that must be involved in a regional plan and response to a major emergency—can make evacuation planning cumbersome and emergency decision making and operations complex. Moreover, leadership is often lacking at the regional level because there is no obvious champion for a multijurisdictional or multistate plan. Having seasoned
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation leaders with institutional memory of prior emergencies and response strategies is also critical, but retirements often result in a short supply of such leadership. In this environment, it is understandable that transit is not a full partner in emergency evacuation planning, particularly if numerous transit agencies must be coordinated.2 Characteristics of the Emergency The nature of an emergency affects the response of transit. An important factor is whether there is no notice or some advance notice of the incident. Emergency incidents that occur infrequently and without notice, such as the September 11 attacks, often require on-the-spot decisions and the flexibility to shift personnel and equipment. They also require real-time communications capability and redundant systems. In New York, for example, transit operators were able to move trains and passengers at the incident site quickly out of harm’s way, but parts of the system were then closed until security could be ensured. When a major emergency control center was lost in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, transit operators were still able to communicate from mobile units. Transit operators have more time to mobilize and have had more experience with providing service in advance-notice emergencies, such as hurricanes, that recur with some frequency. Even for this type of emergency, however, large uncertainties remain. Evacuation decisions must often be made well before it is known exactly when a hurricane will make landfall and what its path will be, and the numbers of evacuees may vary dramatically depending on the potential size and severity of the storm. The specific type of emergency also affects transit’s response. Transit operators would likely have a far more difficult time handling a nuclear or even a major biological or chemical incident than a storm, for example. In the former incidents, bus drivers might be more reluctant to work. If buses were needed to help evacuate the affected area, identifying and handling those who had been exposed to nuclear fallout or a biological or chemical agent would require special coordination with experts in hazardous materials, as well as training and expertise that few transit operating personnel 2 New York is an obvious exception because it has the nation’s largest transit network and largest ridership, and thus transit is a major mode of transportation in any evacuation.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation are likely to possess. In the case of storms and flooding, such concerns do not arise, but equipment can be an issue; for example, flooding can disable buses and make routes impassable. The magnitude, time, and duration of an incident are also critical factors affecting transit’s response. Localized emergencies, such as a hazardous materials incident that affects a portion of the central business district, require less shifting of personnel and equipment to continue transit service compared with an incident that affects a larger area, which requires more service alterations and perhaps coordination among several transit operators to provide adequate service and assist in any needed evacuation.3 The time and duration of the incident matter as well. Many transit agencies interviewed for the committee’s case studies noted that responding to an incident is more difficult at off-peak periods or on weekend days when drivers and equipment are less available, which creates a lag in response time until they can be mobilized to assist in an evacuation. Nevertheless, many urban areas experience heavy congestion for several hours during the workweek morning and evening peak periods under normal conditions. In the event of a disaster, particularly one with no notice, these areas would be hard pressed to handle the surge demands of an evacuation quickly and efficiently. The duration of the event is important because shift arrangements, work restrictions, and part-time operators can affect the availability of drivers, and refueling and maintenance of transit vehicles can become issues in an incident requiring a lengthy evacuation. Behavioral Characteristics Predispositions of the public as well as their prior experience with emergencies can affect both their willingness to evacuate and their use of transit for the purpose. In hurricane-prone areas, residents in areas vulnerable to storm surge have had considerable experience with evacuation, in some cases by transit, which should make it easier to manage future incidents. Nevertheless, emergency managers interviewed during the committee’s Tampa site visit (see the next chapter) indicated that, 3 The September 11 attacks in Lower Manhattan are an obvious exception, as are earthquakes and any other incident that could compromise part or all of the transit system itself.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation despite numerous communication initiatives, only about half of area residents knew their evacuation zone. The greatest concern was apathy among vulnerable residents and the likelihood of a surge in demand for transport by transit at the last moment in the event of an emergency evacuation. In many large urban areas, such as Manhattan in New York City and Chicago, where transit is a major mode of daily transport, transit riders are likely to be knowledgeable about how to access the system in the event of an emergency and how to negotiate the crowds that are part of daily congestion. Cultural factors are also likely to play a role in the use of transit in an evacuation. As noted earlier, many immigrant communities in large urban areas are heavy users of transit, particularly when they first come to the United States (see Appendix B), so they would be likely transit users in an emergency evacuation. However, emergency managers and transit operators need to provide information about the evacuation process in appropriate languages if they are to reach these populations successfully. Finally, trust and credibility are critical in convincing people to evacuate, whether by transit or other means, as was vividly demonstrated by the unwillingness of many vulnerable residents of New Orleans to evacuate before and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failure. Appropriate communication strategies, using local churches and social service agencies that are known and trusted by these groups, are essential. Resources The extent of available resources, both in advance of and during an emergency evacuation, can affect the successful use of transit. Resources are broadly defined here to include technology and organizational arrangements, as well as funding. For example, technology can be helpful in managing an emergency evacuation. Many urban areas have transportation management centers that monitor traffic and crashes on area roads. These centers could be linked to emergency operations centers during an evacuation to help provide real-time information on the movements of both passenger vehicles and buses and identify chokepoints. Many of these systems, however, have a limited reach and do not extend into the far suburbs or exurban areas that could be involved in a regional evacuation.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation Some transit agencies have attempted to stretch limited resources by establishing mutual-aid agreements with transit providers in neighboring jurisdictions, which would help meet surge demands in an emergency evacuation. METRO, Houston’s transit agency, has such an agreement with neighboring Galveston. In the event of a hurricane, METRO will help evacuate transit-dependent residents of Galveston who are located in vulnerable storm surge zones. However, issues such as indemnification and cost reimbursement need to be resolved in advance if these agreements are to be workable during an emergency. Also critical for developing workable plans and protocols for emergency evacuations are resources for emergency planning, particularly to bring together groups that normally do not work together, as is the case for many transit agencies and emergency planners. Funding of and participation in frequent exercises and drills by transit and other agencies should also help identify planning shortfalls. Characteristics of the Transit System The characteristics of a transit system affect its capacity to respond to an emergency and participate in an evacuation.4 In urban areas with large transit systems and service areas, transit is likely to play an important transport role in an evacuation. However, responding appropriately to an emergency incident and meeting surge requirements requires more than size. The modal mix and flexibility of a transit system will also influence how quickly and effectively it can respond in an emergency evacuation. For example, those urban areas that have extensive and redundant rail networks with good system connectivity have an important asset in an emergency evacuation because large numbers of riders can be moved quickly away from an emergency site. Buses also have an important role in moving rail riders directly from transit stations to emergency shelters or other final destinations. Moreover, buses can provide a more flexible way of accessing transit riders who may not live near a rail station or may need assistance in an evacuation. The type of transit service—whether publicly owned and operated or contracted out—can also affect the extent to which transit drivers and 4 Portions of the discussion in this section were drawn from a presentation by Michael Setzer (Setzer 2007) at the National Conference on Disaster Planning for the Carless Society on February 8–9, 2007, at the University of New Orleans.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation equipment will be available in an emergency. In many urban areas, for example, paratransit service is contracted out, and control over drivers and equipment can be an issue during an emergency. Special arrangements must be made in advance in contract agreements to help ensure continuity of service during an emergency evacuation. The condition and capacity of transit systems are important factors as well. If transit equipment is frequently out of service or there are numerous service outages, it is questionable whether transit will be able to provide rapid response and reliable service during an emergency evacuation, particularly in a no-notice incident. Redundancy of infrastructure and measures to supplement capacity with other public and private transportation modes (e.g., school buses, ferries, taxies, shuttle and van fleets) can also help transit providers meet surge requirements. For example, redundant subway tunnels between Manhattan and Brooklyn enabled New York City Transit (NYCT) to restore service quickly as trains were rerouted from the World Trade Center after the collapse of the towers. Transit agencies must also be well integrated into the local emergency command structure so they can provide critical support in concert with other first responders and transportation officials. Transit representatives at emergency operations centers should have full authority to make decisions on behalf of the transit agency. Previous experience in dealing with emergencies, including evacuation, is an advantage. Finally, the capacity of transit to assist in an emergency evacuation depends on the integrity of the system itself during the incident, as well as the safety of employees and equipment. Problems in any of these areas may require curtailing service. Summary This section has described a number of factors that can affect the role of transit in an emergency evacuation. The relative importance of these factors depends on the local context, as well as on their interaction at the time of an incident, which is difficult to predict because emergencies are dynamic events. Nevertheless, some of these factors can be anticipated and addressed in emergency response and operations plans, and there is ample opportunity to build on past experience.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation Results of the Committee’s Literature Review The above discussion raises many hypothetical issues that can determine transit’s response and performance in an emergency evacuation. As discussed in Chapter 1, one of the committee’s three main tasks for this study was to conduct a literature review to learn what is known about transit’s actual role in emergency evacuations. Although the committee cast a wide net in this review—examining emergencies ranging from advance-notice events such as hurricanes, to planned special events such as the Olympics or large Fourth of July celebrations, to no-notice events such as earthquakes and terrorist strikes—the number of studies specifically focused on the role of transit in emergency evacuation was limited. Table 3-1 lists the major studies that were reviewed.5 Appendix B provides a detailed discussion of the results of the literature review, which are briefly summarized here. Status of Evacuation Planning As noted earlier, two major national studies (DHS 2006; USDOT 2006) were conducted following Hurricane Katrina to examine the status of emergency response and evacuation plans in the face of a catastrophic event. These reports help set the stage for examining the more specific role of transit in emergency evacuation. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which conducted an in-depth assessment of the emergency evacuation plans of 56 states and territories and the 75 largest urban areas, found that the majority (85 percent) of emergency operations plans were not “fully adequate, feasible, or acceptable to manage catastrophic events” (DHS 2006, ix). Significant weaknesses in mass evacuation planning were specifically noted as an “area of profound concern” (DHS 2006, ix), with only a small fraction of plans (12 percent of state and 8 percent of urban area plans) estimating the time required to evacuate people located in different risk zones (DHS 2006, 23). Although transit’s role in evacuation was not singled out, the assessment found that even fewer urban area plans (7 percent) had incorporated all available modes of transportation into emergency plans, although slightly more state plans (18 percent) had done so. 5 Numerous smaller studies and articles were also reviewed.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation TABLE 3-1 Summary of Primary Studies Reviewed Report Title Report Authors and Date Geographic Coverage Primary Issues Covered Nationwide Plan Review, Phase 2 Report U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2006 National In-depth assessment of emergency response and evacuation plans of 56 states and territories and 75 largest urban areas Report to Congress on Catastrophic Hurricane Evacuation Plan Evaluation U.S. Department of Transportation in cooperation with U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2006 Five Gulf Coast states In-depth assessment of state and local emergency evacuation plans Transit Emergency Planning and Response Assessment Initiative J. A. Goodwill and A. Reep, Center for Urban Transportation Research, University of South Florida, 2005 Florida Survey of emergency planning and response plans of transit systems in Florida Transportation-Disadvantaged Populations: Actions Needed to Clarify Responsibilities and Increase Preparedness for Evacuations U.S. Government Accountability office, 2006 National Special-needs populations Transportation Equity in Emergencies: A Review of the Practices of State Departments of Transportation, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and Transit Agencies in 20 Metropolitan Areas D. Bailey et al., 2007 Twenty metropolitan areas Evaluation of emergency response and evacuation plans of state DOTs, transit agencies, and metropolitan planning organizations in 20 metropolitan areas with higher-than-average proportions of minority, low-income, limited-English-proficient, and zero-vehicle house-holds Strategies in Emergency Preparedness for Transportation-Dependent Populations National Consortium on the Coordination of Human Services Transportation, 2006 National Special-needs populations
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation communications capability because they often must begin to implement evacuation plans and institute recovery procedures almost immediately after the event. Even if plans are not fully formulated, most transit agencies have experience with service outages and rerouting of equipment as part of daily operations. Moreover, many no-notice events necessitate innovative and ad hoc responses to meet emergency needs. USDOT’s John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (NTSC 2003) illustrated many of these points in its case studies of the events of September 11 in New York City and Washington, D.C., and of the CSX derailment and fire in a Baltimore tunnel in the heart of the city’s business and tourist districts. As discussed earlier, transit played an immediate and important role following the September 11 terrorist attacks, evacuating passengers in the affected areas, assisting in the larger evacuation, and bringing emergency responders to the incident site. For example, NYCT and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey–run Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) trains began emergency procedures within minutes of the first strike on the World Trade Center to evacuate those in affected subway stations, and PATH ran express trains from Manhattan back to New Jersey. New Jersey Transit provided for evacuation on its trains from New York City’s Pennsylvania Station and on buses staged in New Jersey. It also supported emergency response units with employees, buses, and equipment on stripped-down railcars, which were rushed to the World Trade Center site. Likewise, NYCT made available a fleet of buses and personnel to help shuttle emergency responders to and from the site (American Public Transportation Association 2001). Finally, an ad hoc flotilla of water ferries and private boats, loosely organized by the Coast Guard, helped evacuate approximately 300,000 persons from Lower Manhattan to New Jersey (Kendra et al. 2003). Transit, however, was not available to handle the surge of commuters who were released from work several hours after the attack; both subway and commuter rail systems had shut down.6 In Washington, the regional transit system, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), continued operations (although 6 Approximately 4 hours after the attack, partial NYCT subway service was resumed; redundant subway tunnels helped restore service between Manhattan and Brooklyn later in the day as trains were rerouted from the World Trade Center area.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation there were some closures near the Pentagon, which had been hit in the terrorist strike), helping to evacuate many commuters from the city. WMATA also provided buses to help transport the injured and assist the D.C. Metropolitan Police in moving personnel to various locations. During the Baltimore CSX rail tunnel fire, which occurred just before the evening peak hour and a baseball doubleheader at the nearby Camden Yards Stadium, the Maryland Transit Administration set up a “bus bridge” to supplement service, bringing commuter rail passengers into the city and to the game. Despite the disruption, the city was cleared of traffic within 2 hours of the end of the normal peak hour (NTSC 2003). During this event, the primary role of transit was to help alleviate service disruptions. Transit can also play a role in the response to earthquakes, but the extent of that role depends on the severity of the quake, its location, and whether the transit system itself is compromised. For example, during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which struck the San Francisco Bay Area at 5:04 p.m. local time, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system did not play a major role in moving passengers immediately after the event. Although inspection of BART’s underwater trans-bay tube showed no damage, many commuters were reluctant to use the system to cross the bay because of concern about being trapped in the tunnel during an aftershock. Emergency ferry service provided by Crowley Maritime, a private provider, less than 3 hours after the earthquake evacuated those stranded on the wrong side of the bay (Hansen and Weinstein 1991). BART did become the primary passenger transportation link between San Francisco and East Bay communities the Monday following the earthquake, when commuters were expected to return to work (Dames and Moore Earthquake Engineering Group 1999). Transit ridership grew by approximately 40 percent during the first full business week after the event. Emergency evacuation plans are perhaps most advanced in communities with nuclear power facilities. Following the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) required jurisdictions with nuclear power facilities, as well as neighboring jurisdictions, to establish and practice procedures for evacuation and sheltering in place and identify vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities. Many areas have also conducted evacuation time studies. It is not surprising, then, that the
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation majority of areas that received high marks for evacuation in the 2006 DHS review were jurisdictions with fixed nuclear facilities. Nevertheless, the role of transit should an evacuation be necessary is not ensured. The availability of buses and, more important, drivers to transport those without access to a private vehicle in the event of a radiological release continues to be a concern. Role of Transit in Evacuating Special-Needs Populations The committee found several studies that focused on emergency preparedness and evacuation plans for special-needs populations (Bailey et al. 2007; GAO 2006; National Consortium on the Coordination of Human Services Transportation 2006)—characterized by the DHS 2006 study as “the most persistent shortcoming across all the operational parts of state and urban area plans” (DHS 2006, 15). Because many of these populations are potential users of transit in an emergency evacuation, the findings of these studies are of particular interest. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a national study devoted entirely to the issue of preparedness for the evacuation of special-needs populations, which it termed “transportation-disadvantaged populations” (GAO 2006). The definition of the term was broad, including not only vulnerable populations without access to private vehicles but also tourists and commuters who might be without a vehicle at the time of an emergency incident. Similar to the DHS and USDOT studies, the GAO study found that state and local governments are generally not well prepared with respect to planning, training, and conducting exercises for the evacuation of transportation-disadvantaged populations. Another study, conducted for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) (Office of Civil Rights), examined the emergency response and evacuation plans of state departments of transportation (DOTs), transit agencies, and metropolitan planning organizations in 20 metropolitan areas with higher-than-average proportions of minority, low-income, limited-English-proficient, and zero-vehicle households (Bailey et al. 2007). Although most of the neighborhoods inhabited by these populations are well served by transit, few of the agencies surveyed in the study had taken steps to include transportation-disadvantaged populations in emergency plans. None had identified the mobility needs of these populations or had plans in place for
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation coordinating with other agencies for their transport both before and during an emergency. Few had developed evacuation plans and communication strategies targeting the transportation-disadvantaged. The transportation needs of those with disabilities pose a special challenge in an emergency evacuation. The 2006 DHS study found that most state and urban area plans failed to address those needs. Some jurisdictions were developing voluntary special registries so that individuals could pre-identify themselves as needing evacuation assistance, but keeping these registries up to date is costly and difficult, particularly in large urban areas. The timely availability of lift-equipped vehicles to evacuate those with disabilities was found to be another critical but frequently overlooked issue. The 2006 USDOT study reinforced the finding of the DHS study that plans for evacuating disabled persons who are living independently are not well developed. Identifying the location of these individuals, handling the logistics of their evacuation, and addressing their special sheltering needs were all noted as major challenges. In 2004, Executive Order 13347, Individuals with Disabilities in Emergency Preparedness, was signed by the President to help ensure that the federal government would support and strengthen measures in emergency preparedness plans designed to enhance the safety and security of those with disabilities. The executive order created the Interagency Coordinating Council on Emergency Preparedness and Individuals with Disabilities, chaired by DHS through its Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, to help with the order’s implementation. Federal law7 now requires state and local governments with mass evacuation plans to incorporate all special-needs populations into those plans, and FEMA must provide guidance for including persons with disabilities and other special-needs populations in all aspects of emergency management activities, including evacuation, housing, sheltering, transportation, and communications. Considerable challenges remain, however, particularly at the local level, for jurisdictions seeking to make these requirements operational. The studies examined for the committee’s literature review proposed numerous measures to help serve special-needs populations in an emergency evacuation, which are well summarized in a 2006 strategy paper issued by the 7 Public Law 109-295, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation National Consortium on the Coordination of Human Services Transportation.8 These measures can be grouped under several broad categories: Identification and location of special-needs populations—development of demographic profiles using computerized mapping and census data; development of voluntary registries of those requiring transportation assistance in an emergency; engagement of community- and faith-based groups, as well as health and human service agencies that serve special-needs populations, to help identify assistance needs. Advance planning—involvement of organizations knowledgeable about special-needs populations in the development of emergency plans and evacuation strategies; development of checklists for human service agencies and community groups to follow in an emergency that feed into area emergency evacuation plans; preestablishment of emergency transit evacuation routes; provision of information about assembly points and emergency transit stop locations along evacuation routes, and of shelters that can accommodate special-needs populations (e.g., those needing medical assistance, the homeless). Communication—development of strategies for communicating emergency evacuation plans to special-needs populations in accessible formats, both directly and through outreach to community-based organizations; provision for communications with special-needs populations during an emergency and among human service agencies and community groups that can provide assistance. Another review (Phillips and Morrow 2007) suggests that research on warning messages targeting vulnerable special-needs populations is inadequate to provide reliable guidance on how to reach these high-risk groups and hence warrants special attention. Transportation assistance—matching of the potential evacuation needs of these populations with available transit resources; provision for family assistance programs, signups for emergency duty to ensure adequate 8 This publication is focused on the role that public and community transportation services can play in transporting individuals who may require assistance during an emergency—a narrower focus than that of the GAO or FTA study. However, the study’s suggestions for improvement, which reflect a day-long panel discussion among public and private transportation providers, community organizations, government agencies, and national organizations on transportation and emergency preparedness, are applicable for most special-needs groups that require transportation in an evacuation.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation numbers of drivers, driver training, additional professionals to provide medical assistance, and measures for handling service animals and pets; provision for adequate numbers of accessible vehicles, appropriate lift equipment, fuel availability, liability coverage, and reimbursement for services, including mutual-aid agreements with other jurisdictions and standby contracts with private providers (e.g., charter bus companies) to help meet surge requirements. Other Issues Affecting the Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation Highway Capacity The capacity of urban area transportation systems is a critical issue in emergency evacuation, and it affects transit agencies because buses share the roads with private vehicles. A 2006 study conducted for the American Highway Users Alliance (Cox 2006) attempted to assess the evacuation capacity of the 37 largest urban areas, essentially the same group of urban areas that are the focus of this study. Assuming that an entire urban area would be evacuated and that highways and private vehicles would be the principal means of evacuation, the researchers developed an Evacuation Capacity Index and a letter grade from A to F to rank urban areas. Only four urban areas received a grade of A or B.9 The majority received the lowest grade, leading to the conclusion that there is considerable room for improving the evacuation capacity of the nation’s largest urban areas. Although the study was focused on highways and evacuation by private vehicle, the issue of evacuation by transit was addressed and acknowledged to be far more complex. Buses were deemed to be most useful for evacuating those without cars, primarily because of their flexibility: they can bring passengers directly to evacuation centers and return to make additional trips or operate in a feeder capacity to bring rail passengers from stations to reception centers or shelters (Cox 2006). If buses are to be used successfully in an emergency evacuation, however, numerous improvements are needed. First and foremost, exclusive bus routes must be established so that buses can avoid the worst traffic congestion and make return trips. The researchers suggested that making lower-capacity exit routes, such 9 Higher scores were associated with lower population densities, higher-capacity road systems, and the lack of significant geographic barriers blocking exit directions (Cox 2006). See Appendix B for more detail on the Evacuation Capacity Index.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation as two-lane arterials where available, into exclusive bus routes would be preferable to enforcing exclusive bus lanes on overcrowded major highways being used by cars. Other recommended improvements included standby or expedited contracts among transit providers in advance of an emergency so that operators would know what was required of them and drivers would be available and assured of payment, and communications systems that would be operative so that drivers and equipment could be deployed effectively during an evacuation. Transit Agency Participation in Special Events and Emergency Evacuation Exercises Many large urban areas hold special events—major sports events, New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July celebrations, and the like—that can provide a good indication of the surge capacity of transit systems and highway capacity under nonemergency conditions. In addition, effective delivery of transportation services to accommodate ingress to and egress from the location of an event often requires cooperation among agencies that usually do not work together and innovative operating practices, both of which can be useful in an emergency evacuation. In recent years, for example, the District of Columbia has used the annual Fourth of July celebration to conduct a real-time test of different aspects of its emergency evacuation plan. During that event, it hosts approximately 400,000 residents and tourists who come to view the fireworks on the National Mall. WMATA adds rail equipment, shortens headways, extends normal hours of service, manages stations to avoid overcrowding, and controls fare boxes and turnstiles to lessen passenger bottlenecks and accommodate those who wish to use transit. In 2005, the District DOT tested changes in signal timing on certain routes and police control at intersections critical for traffic flow and prepared an after-action report (DDOT 2005); WMATA also participated. In 2006 the Office of Emergency Management and Communications of the City of Chicago conducted a first-of-its-kind emergency exercise involving evacuation of four commercial high-rise buildings in the commercial business district at the height of peak-hour traffic in which more than 4,000 individuals participated and prepared an after-action report (Office of Emergency Management and Communications of the City of Chicago 2007). The purpose was to test emergency notification and communica-
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation tion systems; evacuate building occupants to assembly and transportation centers; test these centers’ intake, registration, and triage operations; and increase public awareness of and education about emergency preparedness. The Chicago Transit Authority, the second-largest transit system in the United States, was part of the exercise and staged buses at the centers, although no one was actually evacuated. Many other urban areas conduct tabletop exercises and drills each year that test one or more aspects of emergency response and evacuation plans. Transit is involved in some of these activities (e.g., annual hurricane exercises in many Gulf Coast states, bistate exercises to test the evacuation of New Jersey commuters across the Hudson River in the event of an emergency in Manhattan). Summary and Findings This chapter has provided a broad overview of the factors likely to affect the role of transit in an emergency evacuation. Transit can play a critical role in emergency evacuation, particularly in evacuating those who lack access to a private vehicle and special-needs populations. The extent of transit’s role, however, depends on numerous factors, including the characteristics of the urban area, the type of emergency (e.g., advance-notice, no-notice), the predisposition of the public to both follow evacuation orders and use transit, available resources, and the characteristics of the transit system itself. Comprehensive reviews of state and urban area emergency operations plans examined by the committee found that most plans were inadequate to manage catastrophic events. Significant weaknesses in evacuation plans were flagged as a major concern, with the exception of plans in the hurricane-prone Gulf Coast states and communities with nuclear facilities that are required to prepare and exercise evacuation plans. In particular, the reviews found very little indication that all available modes of transportation, including transit, had been incorporated in evacuation plans. Most important, despite the unique role of transit in evacuating special-needs populations, all plans were found to be lacking in accommodating the evacuation of those who are transit-dependent and may require special assistance (e.g., the elderly, those with disabilities). Finally, capacity
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation issues, particularly congestion on urban area highways where buses also travel, are likely to limit evacuation capability in many urban areas. Despite this rather negative overall picture, several studies reviewed by the committee offered examples of transit’s having played a key role in emergency evacuation, such as in the terrorist attacks of September 11. In addition, most studies offered constructive suggestions for strengthening the role of transit in emergency evacuation: Including transit providers, as well as social service agencies, in the development of emergency plans; Identifying transit-dependent populations and those requiring special assistance in an evacuation through registries and computer mapping and providing this information to emergency responders, including information on where these individuals should be taken, well in advance of an event; Specifying responsibilities of transit staff in an emergency (essential personnel), providing for the evacuation needs of the staff’s families, and securing transit equipment to the extent possible; Establishing means of communication, including contingency communications plans, among transit agency personnel and with other emergency responders; Developing memoranda of understanding with neighboring jurisdictions, sometimes across state lines, and standby contracts with private providers to help ensure that transit vehicles, including accessible equipment and trained drivers, will be available to meet surge requirements in an emergency and that transport destinations will be clear; Establishing protocols with a clear chain of command and checklists for critical transit personnel and emergency responders; Providing emergency evacuation information in accessible formats to the public, particularly to vulnerable populations, regarding how they can access transit (e.g., bus staging areas) and obtain assistance, if necessary, in an emergency evacuation; and Undertaking frequent drills and exercises, including transit agencies, under a wide range of emergency scenarios to see how well evacuation plans work in practice and planning revisions on the basis of this experience.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation The committee considered many of these points in structuring its own assessment of the emergency response and evacuation plans of the 38 urbanized areas, particularly in preparing the interview questions for its in-depth case studies—the subject of the next chapter. References Abbreviations DDOT District Department of Transportation DHS U.S. Department of Homeland Security GAO U.S. Government Accountability Office NTSC John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center USDOT U.S. Department of Transportation American Public Transportation Association. 2001. America Under Threat: Transit Responds to Terrorism. September 11, 2001, Special Report. Supplement to Passenger Transport. Washington, D.C. 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. Cox, W. 2006. Emergency Evacuation Report Card 2006. American Highway Users Alliance, Washington, D.C., Oct. 13. www.highways.org/pdfs/evacuation_report_card2006.pdf. Dames and Moore Earthquake Engineering Group. 1999. The Loma Prieta Earthquake: Impact on Lifeline Systems. Disaster Recovery Journal Online. DDOT. 2005. July 4th, 2005, Emergency/Evacuation Route Test After-Action Report. Washington, D.C. DHS. 2006. Nationwide Plan Review, Phase 2 Report. June 16. www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/Prep_NationwidePlanReview.pdf. Dotson, L. J., and J. Jones. 2005. Identification and Analysis of Factors Affecting Emergency Evacuations. Main Report. NUREG/CR-6864, Vol. 1. Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, N.Mex., Jan. GAO. 2006. Transportation-Disadvantaged Populations: Actions Needed to Clarify Responsibilities and Increase Preparedness for Evacuations. GAO-07-44. Washington, D.C., Dec. www.gao.gov/new.items/d0744.pdf. Goodwill, J. A., and A. Reep. 2005. Transit Emergency Planning and Response Assessment Initiative. Center for Urban Transportation Research, University of South Florida, Sept.
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The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation Hansen, M., and S. Weinstein. 1991. East Bay Ferry Service and the Loma Prieta Earthquake. UCTC No. 162. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, Dec. Kendra, J., T. Wachtendorf, and E. Quarantelli. 2003. The Evacuation of Lower Manhattan by Water Transport on September 11: An Unplanned “Success,” Forum. Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety, Vol. 29, No. 6, pp. 316–318. National Consortium on the Coordination of Human Services Transportation. 2006. Strategies in Emergency Preparedness for Transportation-Dependent Populations. Washington, D.C., Sept. www.dotcr.ost.dot.gov/Documents/Emergency/Emergency%20Preparedness%20Strategy%20Paper.doc. NTSC. 2003. Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: Cross Cutting Study. Cambridge, Mass., Jan. Office of Emergency Management and Communications of the City of Chicago. 2007. September 7, 2006, Central Business District Evacuation Exercise After Action Report. Chicago, Ill., Apr. 3. Phillips, B. D., and B. H. Morrow. 2007. Social Science Research Needs: Focus on Vulnerable Populations, Forecasting, and Warnings. Natural Hazards Review, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 61–68. Setzer, M. H. 2007. What to Expect from Your Local Transit System. Presented at the National Conference on Disaster Planning for the Carless Society, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, La., Feb. 8. USDOT. 2006. Report to Congress on Catastrophic Hurricane Evacuation Plan Evaluation. In cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Washington, D.C., June 1. www.fhwa.dot.gov/reports/hurricanevacuation/.