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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

Emergency Evacuation: ‘Expected’ Vs. ‘Unexpected’ — They’re Very Different, But We Don’t Treat Them That Way

September 22nd, 2010 · 1 Comment

Over the past few weeks, emergency evacuation has been necessary in different parts of the nation from the wildfires in Colorado and Utah to Hurricane Earl that impacted towns and cities straight up the East Coast.

What has been particularly interesting to me is the dichotomy between the communities that are accustomed to evacuating and others that are not. When Earl threatened the Eastern Seaboard where (and whether) it would hit land was unclear so all areas were at least contemplating evacuation if not implementing it.

North Carolina’s Outer Banks undertook an evacuation, but that is old hat for residents of that often-threatened community. But by contrast, other (especially more urban) areas do not have that evacuation muscle memory. For a time, there was a concern that heavily-populated places, like Long Island without evacuation track records, were in the storm’s path. There was even thought that residents of low-lying areas of New York City might have to leave their homes. Of course, Earl luckily swerved into the Atlantic and we moved on to the next subject. But I still have significant concerns that this area could undertake a major evacuation at the present time even with warning.

Nevertheless, when government officials talk about the subject of emergency evacuation with the public and the media they don’t normally differentiate between communities that are evacuation veterans and those which are not.

Further, and more seriously I would argue, is the question of unexpected evacuation due to an unexpected incident such as a terrorist attack that could impact all parts of the country. It is an even more complex challenge which receives very little discussion at the local and national levels. In fact, most emergency authorities ask citizens to create and rehearse their own plans with little guidance (and so it shouldn’t be surprising why so few folks have). As has been mentioned frequently on the blog, there is a need to work through these issues together. To me, it could be even integrated into existing fire evacuation as well.

It would have been nice if some of these warnings, such as Hurricane Earl, would have provoked the public, the media and government officials to focus attention on the challenge of unexpected evacuation. It would be an opportunity to discuss further concepts such as ’shelter in place’.

But I think the fact that Outer Banks residents and tourists are able to evacuate the barrier islands swiftly and orderly is fooling the nation that somehow we are on top of the issue of emergency evacuation. It is time that this topic gets more attention, because officials are warning that the unexpected is actually the expected.

Residents and tourists on North Carolina’s Outer Banks evacuate before Hurricane Earl.

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Tags: Hurricane Preparedness · Preparedness Ideas

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