Role of Public Transportation in Emergency Evacuation (Supplement to SAFETEA-LU NAS/TRB Policy Study)

Emergency evacuation of major cities has taken on new prominence following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The congressional request for this study, however, stems from the consequences of 9/11 and the critical role that transit played that day in evacuating lower Manhattan following the attack on the World Trade Center and in providing emergency assistance. Timely decision making by transit operators and rapid evacuation of transit facilities in the immediate vicinity of the World Trade Center avoided any casualties to transit riders as a result of the collapse of the two towers. Hundreds of thousands of people were safely evacuated from lower Manhattan after tunnels were deemed safe for operation. Transit operators also brought emergency responders and emergency aid to the World Trade Center. In Washington, D.C., the shutdown of the federal government following the strike on the Pentagon on 9/11 clogged the road network and Metro became the mode of choice, evacuating several hundred thousand people from Washington and northern Virginia in a few hours. Emergency personnel arrived at the site by Metro and regional bus system buses, which stayed on scene in support of the response and recovery. Even so, immediately after the strike on the Pentagon, police and senior local and federal public officials gave Metro conflicting orders. One senior official demanded that the system be shut down out of fear of further terrorism, while others wanted to requisition transit cars to move emergency equipment. Any large metropolitan area has multiple jurisdictions and may even have multiple transit agencies. Thus having a sound, executable plan that brings all these parties together is an essential element for effectively utilizing transit in emergency evacuations. Experience in both New York City and Washington indicated that existing plans had many weaknesses. Use of transit for evacuation in response to Hurricane Katrina failed completely. New Orleans had an emergency plan to rely on transit for the 100,000 to 200,000 New Orleans residents estimated to be without means of private transportation. The plan called for drivers to drive loaded buses, including the drivers' families, to shelters outside the city, but few drivers reported to work. Even had the drivers been available, the city's 500 transit and school buses could only have moved a fraction of the residents estimated to be transit-dependent. Several transit agencies and Amtrak had vehicles and drivers ready to assist, but communications breakdowns and the lack of an incident management control center in the immediate aftermath of the storm resulted in these assets sitting idle. In the case of New Orleans, the problem was having a plan that wasn't workable, but at least there was a semblance of a plan for transit. A 2001 review of 16 state hurricane emergency evacuation plans found no specific plans to rely on transit for evacuation.


  • English


  • Status: Completed
  • Funding: $65000.00
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project H-35

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Federal Transit Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590

    Transit Cooperative Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC    20001
  • Project Managers:

    Parker, Stephan

  • Performing Organizations:

    Transportation Research Board

    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001
  • Principal Investigators:

    Humphrey, Nancy

  • Start Date: 20061101
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 20080731
  • Source Data: RiP Project 12336

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01462866
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transit Cooperative Research Program
  • Contract Numbers: Project H-35
  • Files: RiP, USDOT
  • Created Date: Jan 3 2013 2:11PM