A few years ago, I witnessed and lived through the before and after of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath. I saw the problems in evacuating from New Orleans. I was greatly relieved when the City of New Orleans released the City Assisted Evacuation Plan. These are my observations and recommendations about their plan.
As frightful and nerve wracking as it is waiting for a hurricane to make landfall, it can be even more dreadful if you don’t have the means to evacuate. Maybe it’s because you thought how chic it would be to give up your car and commute everyday to your job via one of the lovely streetcars that New Orleans is famous for. Unfortunately, though, there are others who simply lack the financial means, or for other reasons cannot evacuate on their own.
In 2008, the City of New Orleans created the City Assisted Evacuation Plan (CAEP) to make sure that the city’s most vulnerable citizens have a way to evacuate. The purpose of the CAEP is to help citizens who want to leave during an emergency, but lack the capability to self-evacuate. The general concept of the plan is that the city utilizes its facilities, manpower, and other resources to provide assistance to citizens who cannot self-evacuate during the declaration of an emergency. The CAEP is available online from the City of New Orleans’ website (http://www.cityofno.com/). The CAEP comes with an evacuation map as part of the evacuation plan and a flow chart to explain how the process works. The map depicted in the CAEP lists 17 evacuation centers; all serviced by the New Orleans Regional Transportation Authority (NORTA or RTA) buses.
To register for CAEP, residents must call the city’s “311 Hot-Line” number. They will receive a postcard with instructions, and their names will be registered in a database for later reference. A 2008 survey conducted by the University of New Orleans’ Center for Hazards Assessment, Response & Technology (CHART) concluded that the CAEP “was generally regarded by most participants as successful,” even though there were some aspects identified that needed improvement, such as lacking confidence in the government to evacuate them out of harm’s way.  But volunteer groups such as Phoenix of New Orleans, AmeriCorps, and Evacuteer.org with their knowledge of the neighborhood and its residents will be a major asset in future evacuations. Many of these volunteers were instrumental during the 2008 Hurricane Gustav evacuation where nearly 20,000 residents used the plan.
However, as far reaching and effective as the volunteers were in their notable efforts, there is an additional method of reaching residents during an evacuation. There is room for improvement.
Recommendations on what changes should be made to the CAEP will be discussed in an upcoming blog posting.
Author: Eston Spain, Emergency Planner