Evacuation Playbook Getting Finishing Touches

Local leaders are putting the finishing touches on what amounts to an evacuation "playbook" on how to respond if another big storm heads our way during the upcoming hurricane season. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, members of the Houston-Galveston area evacuation and response task force hope a long list of recommendations helps make things smoother next time.

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The recommendations are part of a draft report to be presented to the Houston-Galveston Area Council for approval next week. They include broader transportation recommendations, like the use of contra-flow lines earlier in an evacuation and the establishing pre-determined fuel storage areas along the routes. The report also calls for a Unified Area Command made up of representatives from across the region that would coordinate the evacuation and local response. Harris County Judge Robert Eckels says practice makes perfect.

"Tropical Storm Allison was a dress-rehearsal for Hurricane Katrina and Katrina for Rita and Rita for whatever happens down the line. The more we train, the more we practice, the more we prepare, the better prepared we will be for whatever comes our way. Whether it's a refinery fire or a pipeline explosion or a train derailment or a terrorist attack or a big hurricane. It's going to be a community that is better prepared because of the work we're doing today."

A similar plan was implemented just before last year's hurricane season, but was rendered basically ineffective because of the lack of coordination and the fact that evacuating several million people presented problems that had never been dealt with before. Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia says that should change next time around.

"We've learned a lot of lessons from both the receiving and working with evacuees with regard to the transportation issues and the medical issues and shelter issues with Hurricane Katrina and then helping evacuate and preparing a just-in-case scenario for us to be the ones to be dealing with our own people who need transportation or medical. So I think we've had two great dress rehearsals."

Although the recommendations provide suggested solutions, the plan doesn't address infrastructire concerns or how to implement the suggestions, with just two months until hurricane season. Despite the time crunch, Metro police chief Tom Lambert says it's good to have a rough idea of what should happen.

"It's always good to have people that know each other before an emergency hits. It's very good to know what good plans are, but it's also recognizing that we're able to adapt to those plans based on changing conditions. That's part of what's learned from this process. We'll put some very good base plans together, but we'll be prepared to adapt in a unified coordinated fashion when we have to be flexible to do things."

The recommendations include revised evacuation routes, such as blocking access to evacuation routes from the 610 loop and using contra-flow lanes on Highway 290 from Highway 6 to College Station.

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