County Testing New Emergency Evacuation Routes

Harris County officials are evaluating the disaster response plan in a day-long emergency drill. The state is testing the county to see if the new evacuation routes and communication systems will be effective.

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Harris County has new mandatory evacuation routes for emergency situations. The new corridors have not been used in an actual emergency, so Governor Rick Perry has ordered the county to run a drill to help prepare for the 2005 hurricane season. Harris County Emergency Management Coordinator Frank Guitierrez says they're hoping the drill turns up any flaws in the system so they can address those problems.

The drill involves the simulated approach of a category five hurricane. Harris County Judge and Director of Homeland Security Robert Eckels says they've been improving disaster plans since 1994, after Mitch hit the Yucatan and Andrew hit Florida.

The State is drafting the drill plan, which includes voluntary and mandatory evacuation orders, shelter exercises and a weapons of mass destruction element. Guitierrez says the new evacuation routes can accomodate up to 2,000 vehicles per hour, per lane. So everyone in the storm surge areas could be evacuated well before a hurricane makes landfall.

The drill is also testing communication between agencies and locations. There were some minor glitches in communication between the command center and outlying shelters in Bryan/College Station, but nothing that impeded operations. Eckels says one goal of the drill is to make citizens more aware of the need for personal emergency plans. He says most Houstonians are unprepared for a severe weather event.

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