Core elements of an evacuation plan

By: John W. Porco, PE, and Kenneth A. Zaklukiewicz – Michael Baker Jr., Inc.

This paper is intended to provide guidance to local jurisdictions on “core elements” that are essential to be included in an effective local Evacuation Plan. Evacuation is a process by which people move or are moved from a place where there is immediate or anticipated danger to a place of relative safety, offered appropriate temporary shelter, and when the threat to safety is gone, enabled to return to their normal activities or to make suitable alternative arrangements. Local jurisdictions should adapt the elements to any format and content that best suits local conditions.  In developing the core elements, the authors reviewed a wide variety of plans and guidance documents from jurisdictions around the United States to identify “best practices” from these documents. In addition, the authors drew on their experience in developing evacuation plans for four large urban areas. An evacuation plan should include:

  1. AUTHORITIES: Planning considerations associated with evacuation procedures are complex and must account for existing local, State/Provincial, and Federal legislation and plans.
  2. THREAT ASSESSMENT: The Plan should include a comprehensive discussion of the types of incidents that might prompt an evacuation and the potential level of evacuation that each might require, specific to the individual jurisdiction. Examples might be flooding, earthquakes, and terrorism.
  3. PLANNING ASSUMPTIONS: Every Plan is founded on a series of Planning Assumptions, which “bound” the evacuation scenario. For example, based on observations, with advance warning, approximately 50% of jurisdiction population will voluntarily evacuate the area even before being ordered to leave based on their perception of danger. Once an order is issued, up to 90% of the affected population can be expected to evacuate.
  4. PHASES OF EVACUATION: The actions necessary to conduct an evacuation could be presented by phases, stages, or timing of evacuation activities. This encourages a more organized approach to both planning and implementation. For example, an evacuation might be conducted in four stages, Pre-evacuation contacts, evacuation alert or warning, evacuation order (precautionary or mandatory), and return.
  5. LEVELS OF EVACUATION: The Annex should define levels of evacuation, because these will characterize the scope of the event and the actions which must be taken. There are a variety of ways to define evacuation levels, such as minor/routine, major, and catastrophic, based on the impact of the event. “Shelter in Place,” the act of sealing off a room or building in order to isolate the occupants from an external threat and staying inside until the threat has abated, is another option.
  6. ORGANIZATION/ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES: The Plan must include the organization structure of the evacuation implementation team, clearly indicating what agency is in charge of the evacuation operations. In addition, the Plan should set forth the roles and responsibilities of each agency and organization, local, State/Provincial, and private, that will be involved in the evacuation.
  7. TRANSPORTATION: The primary mode of transportation in an evacuation will be privately owned vehicles. Therefore, the Plan must identify and include information on evacuation routes, particularly capacities. Evacuation routes used will be determined based on the location and extent of the incident. However, many individuals within a jurisdiction may not own a car or, for whatever reason, cannot drive or in an emergency may not choose to drive. To this number must be added those who find themselves temporarily without a vehicle, such as commuters, college and university students, many tourists and others. So, supplemental transportation resources must be provided for these “carless” populations. Many urban areas have a significant supply of public transportation assets, most often busses, supplemented by rail transit, commuter rail, private operators, and taxicabs, as appropriate. The Plan should include listings of vehicles available, capacities, points of contact, and dispatch protocols. Another critical element of supplemental transportation services is the designation of pickup points to which evacuees would walk, which must be listed in the Plan.
  8. SPECIAL NEEDS: The disastrous evacuation problems experienced in Hurricane Katrina emphasize the need for identification of transportation resources that can help evacuate people with disabilities during an emergency. The National Council on Disabilities defines such persons as those “whose needs for basic necessities are compounded by chronic health conditions and functional impairments, such as people who are blind; people who are deaf; people who use wheelchairs, canes, walkers, and crutches; people with service animals; and people with mental health needs.” The provision of vehicles equipped with lifts capable of accepting passenger wheelchairs and similar mobility aids requires careful coordination. The Plan should include some estimation of special needs populations who will require specialized transportation services.
  9. SHELTERING: About 10-20 % of evacuees can be expected to seek public shelter. The remainder will leave the area, stay with relatives or friends, or seek commercial lodging. So, the Plan should include comprehensive strategies for sheltering. Note that shelter-in-place should be considered as the initial response to a hazardous event.
  10. ANIMAL CONSIDERATIONS: Ensuring for the transportation, care, and sheltering of animals must be considered in evacuation plans. Many people will refuse to evacuate their homes if they cannot take their pets with them. It is estimated that up to 25 percent of pet owners will not evacuate because of their animals.
  11. PUBLIC NOTIFICATION: Effective and informative notification to the public will be vital to convincing them that they should evacuate. The public must understand why they need to evacuate or shelter-in-place, how long they will need to plan to do so, routes to use, the location of transportation pickup points, the time required for evacuations, the availability of shelters, what they should take with them, how their pets will be accommodated, how they should secure their homes, and the security that will be provided when they are away from their homes.

A jurisdiction that includes all of these elements will have a framework for an successful evacuation plan for protection of their citizens.

More information is available from John W. Porco, PE, and Kenneth A. Zaklukiewicz