Disaster Management Manual
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4.4 Evacuation

Evacuation planning has become a critical component of disaster management operations in recent years. Each year, millions of people around the world are affected by evacuation orders due to the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters (Figure 4.4), along with periodic industrial/technological incidents and malevolent/terrorist activities.

Figure 4.4 Houston residents evacuate due to imminent threat of Hurricane Rita

These disasters teach us the importance of planning, coordinating, and executing evacuations as a primary protective action regardless of the threat or hazard. The challenge is to quickly identify the appropriate level of action necessary to address a variety of factors, including the community’s demographics, infrastructure, resources and authorities.

The primary authority and responsibility for evacuation typically begins with the local government working in conjunction with the community. Prior to an incident, jurisdictional governments should engage with public and private sector partners, nongovernmental organizations, faith-based organizations, and individual community members so there is an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each partner along with the authorities and limitations that exist.

Evacuation orders are issued by the jurisdictional authority. This authority will also manage traffic flow, identify evacuation routes, and consider any necessary respite site needs if food, water, and fuel availability is limited.

Clear and concise messaging, in multiple accessible formats, is critical in order to actively engage citizens in the event of a voluntary or mandatory evacuation. This will include static and dynamic signage, social media, public emergency alert systems, and other available resources. Messaging should be pre-approved by the appropriate jurisdictional authority and advise the public of necessary actions, including the specific threats or hazards impacting their community. It is critical that authorities continuously monitor social media during the event to identify any contradictory statements and attempt to correct inaccurate accounts of the situation.

Public awareness of the hazard, of evacuation procedures, and especially of alerting methods contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of an evacuation. In addition, community familiarity with alerting methods is closely related to evacuation efficiency. Cooperation from evacuees contributes to safe, efficient, and effective evacuations. 1

A well-developed training and exercise program is also a critical element of overall readiness and preparedness for mass evacuations. Training ensures personnel are prepared for their roles. Exercises test the capabilities and resources of the agencies, and when a number of cooperating agencies and jurisdictions are included, they also test and strengthen working relationships. Training and exercises to test and improve plans for an evacuation from a catastrophic incident are especially important because of the large number of agencies and jurisdictions involved in such an evacuation. 2

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