With the start of hurricane season less than two weeks away, Harris County officals say they’ve made some improvements to their disaster plans. As Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams reports, those changes could make things easier for the residents who leave the area in the event of a hurricane and those who decide to stay.
The biggest change this year is how and when residents in surge zones along the coast will evacuate. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says residents will now leave based on zip codes, a system that he says won’t be so confusing.
“It’s going to be much easier in the future to say if you live in any of these zip codes, it is time for you to evacuate. By correlating the various evacuation zones to zip codes we think that that will improve things a great deal.”
In addition to zip code evacuations, residents will also be able to use contraflow lanes set up on the four major evacuation routes, I-10 West, I-45 North, Highway 59 North and Highway 290 West. Emmett says those routes will include temporary fuel stops.
“There will also be on all of these routes comfort stations with water, ice, some food, EMS personnel, that will be TxDOT personnel and volunteers to take care of any emergencies that might occur.”
The evacuation routes will also include 75 mounted cameras, called “hurricams”, to monitor traffic conditions. Harris County emergency management coordinator Mike Montgomery says special needs residents and others who want to be evacuated will have a designated destination this year.
“If the need for this mandatory evacuation does occur then people from the greater Houston area, with the exception of some of the smaller cities that have pre-designated areas, such as LaPorte, Deer Park and Pasadena and the city of Galveston headed toward Austin and other areas, we will be headed for Dallas.”
In order to avoid the massive traffic jams experienced during Rita in 2005, Judge Emmett says officials are relying on residents to follow evacuation directions that let those who live in Galveston and Brazoria counties leave first. He says if you’re not in a surge zone, there’s no need to leave early.
“People have got to, I know it’s a hard thing to ask people to do, but they’ve got to be patient and they’ve got to let those who are in danger clear the area first so we don’t take a natural disaster and add a man-made disaster on top of it because we’ve clogged our own highways and roads.”
You can find a link to a map that shows which zip codes are in surge zones through a link on our website, KUHF.org.