Can We Evacuate the Atlanta Region?
The simple answer to this question is “yes.” However, because the incident most likely to necessitate an evacuation is one with little or no forewarning and an indeterminate impact location, it was vital that the RECP consider four distinctly different evacuation scenarios:
- regional evacuation requiring the evacuation of the entire population in the region;
- area evacuation requiring the evacuation of specific zones or areas;
- point evacuation requiring the evacuation of a specific area that crosses jurisdictional boundaries; and
- central business district evacuation requiring the evacuation of the central business district.
Each of these evacuation scenarios focuses on distinct at-risk populations and is heavily influenced by the results of the behavioral analysis from phase two, which assessed how residents of the region would respond to an evacuation order.
Where Will People Go?
One of the key objectives of the Atlanta RECP was to gain a deeper understanding of how residents will react to an evacuation and what their needs might be. Using a phone survey system, more than 16,000 area households were called and asked to participate in a 13-question survey on emergency evacuations. The households surveyed were distributed throughout the region in proportion to the size of the county’s population. Each household was asked to place themselves in a hypothetical evacuation scenario and asked:
- the number of individuals in the household;
- what types of assistance they would need;
- where they would seek shelter;
- what type of transportation they would use; and
- what they would do with household pets, if applicable.
The results of the RECP survey will help elected officials and emergency managers make better response and recovery decisions and assist emergency management planners in the Atlanta region with a more realistic understanding of the needs of an evacuating population, and the resources required to support them.
What is the Regional Coordination Process to Evacuate?
The decision to evacuate an area is not one to be taken lightly. There are significant impacts on public safety, public perception and the economy. Moreover, it’s widely acknowledged that chief elected officials and emergency management directors don’t have time to memorize or even thumb through a 200-page plan in the midst of a serious crisis.
With that in mind, the entire Atlanta RECP was summarized into the first four pages of the document. This important four-page section contains a first-hour checklist and an evacuation process flow chart, and can be pulled out as stand-alone document. The first-hour checklist summarizes the key activities and tasks that chief elected officials, emergency managers and other decision-makers must be aware of to effectively respond to an emergency incident. The evacuation process flow chart outlines the general coordination process during an emergency as well as the plans and procedures that must be followed during each step. The concept of coordination described in the chart works hand-in-hand with the concept of operations described in the GEMA Emergency Operations Plan and county emergency plans.
The RECP was organized into three sections: base plan, evacuation planning analysis and county-specific information.
- The base plan provides the overall framework for how the 10 counties, Atlanta, Georgia and other stakeholders will coordinate and communicate evacuation decisions and measures. The base plan identifies evacuation zones and routes and estimated clearance times. It also contains the results of the evacuation behavioral analysis, which estimates the percentage of the population that will evacuate when directed, the required level of transportation assistance (e.g., general assistance, evacuating with pets, medical special needs, etc.) and the number of residents who may seek refuge at an American Red Cross shelter.
- The evacuation planning analysis details the results of the hazard vulnerability analysis, the evacuation zone analysis, the behavioral analysis, the transportation analysis and the shelter analysis.
- The county-specific information section presents the county-level results of each of the analyses completed and detailed in the evacuation planning analysis section. This section of the RECP is intended to serve as a standalone document that may be excerpted and appended to a county Emergency Operations Plan.
A National Model for Regional Planning
As the regional planning and intergovernmental coordination agency for the 10-county area, the Atlanta Regional Commission is focused on unifying the region's collective resources to prepare it for a safe and prosperous future. In keeping with its mission to catalyze regional progress, the commission skillfully coordinated the planning effort between emergency managers from the 10 counties, GEMA and key community, faith-based, private and transportation-related organizations during this project. The resulting Atlanta RECP — which reflects the region’s commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of its citizens — serves as a national best-practice model for regional collaboration and planning.
Jeff Hescock is a senior consultant with Beck Disaster Recovery, Inc., www.beckdr.com, and was the project manager on the Atlanta Regional Evacuation Planning Project. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Photo courtesy of Liz Roll/ FEMA News Photo.]