May 01, 2006
Evacuation drill tomorrow

If you hear any alarm bells tomorrow, you can ignore them. That's just the statewide hurricane evacuation drill going on.

The three-day drill - being staged statewide for the first time - will test the evacuation response in the first 72 hours before landfall of the worst-case scenario - a Category 5 hurricane.

Numerous improvements are being incorporated into the evacuation plan, including:

  • Establishing contraflow lanes more quickly, using shoulder lanes for the first time and preventing Houston-Galveston evacuees from using U.S. 59 north.

  • Using the private sector to distribute gas and food.

  • Opening shelters as far away as El Paso and Lubbock.

  • Providing more efficient assistance to the sick and elderly.

No extra vehicles will be used to clog the freeways to simulate the evacuation exercise.

But emergency responders will make the experience realistic by loading equipment, communicating by radio, marshaling forces and setting up shelters.

It's not clear to me how much of this is actually being tested - I mean, I kind of doubt that any contraflow lanes will be opened tomorrow. Still, I expect there will be some useful information gleaned from this test. I look forward to hearing more about it.

One thing I don't understand:

The Texas Department of Transportation is prepared to test its new contraflow plan. Transportation employees will position themselves to implement contraflow lanes during the exercise but will not disrupt traffic.

Possible contraflow lanes in the area include sections of Interstate 10, Interstate 45, U.S. 290, U.S. 59 and U.S. 69.

However, Janelle Gbur, Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman, stressed the use of U.S. 59 as an evacuation route is strongly discouraged for those from the Houston and Galveston area.

In fact, plans call for the exit onto U.S. 59 from Interstate 10 to be blocked, because U.S. 59 already could be filled from evacuees coming from east of Harris County, she explained.

I don't get this at all. Do we think that taking US59 out of the mix leaves enough traffic lanes to handle all the cars evacuating Harris County in the event of another Rita? What road are all of the Harris County people east of 59 supposed to take? And I can only presume Gbur means "evacuees coming from North and East of Harris County" because on my map, 59 heads mostly west once it passes I-10. Does this mean she's worried about the people north of Kingwood? Someone please help me out here, because this is not making sense to me.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 01, 2006 to Hurricane Katrina | TrackBack

She might mean people from Beaumont and the rest of Southeast Texas, who would take northbound highways that run into 59 northeast of Houston. Since 59 becomes a highway (rather than a freeway) up there it doesn't have as much capacity as 45 to start with, so there could be a big mess if people from Houston and people from Beaumont are all trying to head up to Texarkana.
But closing 59 out of Houston would put a lot more pressure on 45 and 290.

Posted by: Christof Spieler on May 1, 2006 12:32 PM

I think Gbur is referring to the folks in Chambers and Jefferson Counties who would be heading north in case of a hurricane evacuation. At some point these evacuee streams would merge with Harris County evacuees on 59 - in Livingston, where 59 and SH 146 meet, for instance, or in Lufkin where 59 and US 69 meet - and bottlenecks would likely occur.

TxDOT wants to avoid these potential bottlenecks by encouraging Houston evacuees to go north on 45, northwest on 290 or west on 10, thereby keeping east Texas highways like 59 clear for evacuees from Beaumont and Port Arthur.

Posted by: Thomas on May 1, 2006 1:05 PM

It seems like you would have to use parts of US59N to get to the freeways they will let you use. I wonder if there is historical hurricane data showing that many hurricanes track right up that area of east Texas (the 59N route), which would put those cars in the path of the storm? Could that possibly be it?

Posted by: muse on May 1, 2006 7:00 PM

I live in a mandatory evacuation area. What concerns me is that these contra flow lanes are in areas in the middle and beyond the downtown area. In hours, we barely made it to Greenspoint Mall. We turned back and 45 minutes later we were home. I watched dogs in the back of pickups die, I peed in my own dogs's water bowl, I listened to my son up in Huntsville who asked why they were sending people there, because they had no electricity, gas and grocery stores were running out of food. All those evac planners need to know, many of us are saying NEVER AGAIN. I'm not going. I don't care if I have to wedge myself between the washer and dryer with my son's old football helmet on my head. By the way, I'm from NC, and down there unless you live on the beach, you stay. My 72 year old mom was more worried about me on the highway than about the hurricane!

Posted by: Kat Hale on May 2, 2006 10:35 AM