Management & Operations

Report: Emergency plans should include more transit

Posted on July 23, 2008

A new report from the National Research Council's Transportation Research Board says that while millions of people each day rely on transit, few urban area emergency plans have focused on its role in an emergency evacuation.

After reviewing 38 urban areas' emergency response and evacuation plans, the committee found that transit has a role to play in each of the four major elements that make up an emergency response plan -- mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. The committee then conducted in-depth case studies of Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City/North New Jersey and Tampa, Fla.

The five case studies illustrate the role transit could play in an evacuation, including transporting those without a car to area shelters or outside the affected area, bringing emergency responders and equipment to emergency incident sites, returning evacuees to their original destinations and restoring service as expeditiously as possible.

Local governments are required by law to develop emergency plans for evacuations and mass departure routes, and, since 2006, for populations with special needs, such as people with disabilities. Local governments also have the primary responsibility of responding to emergency incidents and ordering an evacuation, if necessary, and transportation and transit agencies play a supporting role. If an incident overwhelms local capability, state and federal assistance may be requested, which happens with some frequency.

To help fill the planning gap, the committee recommends that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security provide guidance and funds to state and local governments on regional evacuation planning that includes transit and other public transportation providers.

States should take the lead to see that plans are implemented, coordinating with appropriate regional entities.

Federal transportation funds also should be directed to evacuation-related, capacity-enhancement projects to add redundancy to critical transit and highway infrastructure and to Intelligent Transportation Systems projects, to further network resilience in an emergency.

To read the report, go to http://national-academies.org.

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