The New Orleans City Assisted Evacuation Plan (CAEP) and how it can be improved

I recently indicated in a previous posting that the New Orleans City Assisted Evacuation Plan (CAEP) was very useful in helping some of the City’s residents (approximately 20,000) in evacuating for Hurricane Gustav. But, like any good plan, as effective as the CAEP has become, it should be updated to reflect any changes or problems encountered in the earlier version.

As a suggestion, these updates could include: bus evacuation, route information, and the map updated to reflect the changes. I determined that for each evacuation center, an evacuation route could be identified using GIS. Furthermore, bus stop kiosks and bus stop shelter walls are ideal locations for placing mass transit and city-assisted evacuation information, such as maps, evacuation shelters serviced by a particular route, and evacuation shelter locations. Bus route maps located at bus stop shelters are convenient to mass transit commuters and way-finders in a large metropolitan city.  These maps can display route specific information, such as streets serviced or located along a route; or display the route as an overlay in a large scale map that covers a greater area, such as a city.  The larger scale maps often include multiple bus routes, highways, main and secondary streets, as well as certain geographic and topographic information. The downside to this type of map, as opposed to route specific maps, is that the more information displayed, the more complicated the map becomes, thus the more difficult to read and less likely that one can find the information needed (let alone the bus desired). But, this is not always the case, even though New Orleans does not have maps at their bus stop shelters. Perhaps some examples would help to demonstrate why maps are important features for bus stop shelters.

Have you ever travelled to a large city, say Chicago, and went sightseeing, or looked for a restaurant, hotel or possibly some other location without a GPS or GPS function on your smart-phone, or Google-Map capability?

Well, in a lot of major cities all you have to do is to go to any of the bus stop shelters and you will find a map of the city, complete with route information and other features.  In fact, cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco; to name a couple, make use of this feature at all their bus stop shelters.  Another feature around large cities and even some smaller recreational and tourist areas in cities are wayfarer maps.  These are kiosk-styles maps that give the user a sense of bearing to help them navigate to shops and specific features of the area.  Most of us have seen similar maps on running and bike trails, shopping malls, and even airports. The main function of these maps is to orient the user so that less time is spent looking for a desired location and thus allowing more time to get to where you want to go.

I believe that the CAEP evacuation maps could be even more effective if they were located in bus stop shelters throughout the RTA service area. The evacuation centers should also have maps, but in larger scale to identify the local streets.  In these larger, neighborhood sized maps the evacuation centers should be centered and include more detail such as the location of critical resources like hospitals, fire and police stations. The maps should also have the bus line/routes clearly identified, and, most importantly, include a 15 minute walking distance buffer-circle around the evacuation center’s location. This would allow evacuation center workers, volunteers, and even residents to know where the bus stops are along evacuation routes, what emergency services are nearby, and how far from the center one could reasonably expect to walk in 15 minutes.

Hurricane evacuation maps are a critical resource for residents of large urban areas along the Gulf and East Coast communities. In New Orleans, the CAEP was designed specifically for those who may not have the resources to evacuate on their own.  It has been demonstrated that the CAEP works and there are volunteers to assist residents in evacuating. The CAEP map is very helpful, but if the map were enhanced to identify the bus routes that serve the centers and the bus stops along these routes, the map and CAEP could be even more effective. David Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge – an almost play by play account of what happened before, during, and after Katrina hit – saw a need for informing residents when he wrote:

Another oversight involved having no signs clearly marking the sites where evacuation buses would pick people up.  By contrast, in Miami Beach, Florida, all bus stops post a huge notice instructing citizens how to get a free ride out of town in case of emergency.  Other cities in the hurricane belt did much the same thing.  But New Orleans had no such uniform contingency.  After Katrina, Mayor Nagin often complained that he had no money with which to do anything.  How much money would a couple of hundred metal signs have cost?

Brinkley hit a key safety issue regarding signs.  New Orleans residents who cannot evacuate on their own need this information, as do the volunteers who assist them during evacuations. The CAEP was created to help the vulnerable population in evacuating the city, and it works.  But, just think how much more effective the CAEP could be if the maps were updated and located at evacuation route bus stops and evacuation centers, especially for those who cannot evacuate on their own.


Author: Eston Spain, Emergency Planning Associate


Brinkley, D. (2006). Storm vs. Shoreline. In D. Brinkley, The Great Deluge (p. 92). New York: Morrow.