Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Houston evacuation transportation

Today we have a guest post from Carroll Robinson at TSU. He sent it after yesterday's post on using cell phone signals to map traffic speeds in real-time, which he also mentions below. Seems like some good common-sense suggestions. Feedback is welcome in the comments.

Carroll G. Robinson, Esq.

Texas Southern University School of Public Affairs

Associate Dean of External Affairs and Assistant Professor

Testimony to the Texas Governor’s Task Force on

Evacuation Transportation and Logistics

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Hilton Americas Hotel, Houston, Texas

Chairman Little, members of the Task Force, my name is Carroll G. Robinson. I am a former city-wide elected member of the Houston City Council. During my service on the City Council, I served as Chairman of the City’s Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure (TTI) Committee and represented Houston on the Board of Directors of the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) and was a Vice Chair of H-GAC’s Transportation Policy Council (TPC).

I am a former member of the Texas Transportation Institute’s (TTI) Advisory Board and was appointed to the Texas Department of Transportation’s (Tx-DOT) 2001 Work Group on Transportation Goals and Objectives by then Tx-DOT Chairman Johnny Johnson.

I am currently a member of the faculty and Associate Dean of External Affairs at Texas Southern University’s Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs (BJ-ML SOPA).

Earlier this year, at the invitation of Dr. Carol Lewis, Chair of the City of Houston’s Planning Commission and a member of this Task Force, I agreed to serve as a member of the Planning Commission’s Long Range Planning Committee.

I am here this morning however, as a concerned citizen who just so happens to have served in city government and has spent a fair amount of time thinking about and working on transportation issues in the Greater Houston Region.

Today, I would like to offer several ideas for the Task Force’s consideration.

First, even though it may be self-evident, the work of the Task Force should encompass more than just Hurricane evacuation. It should, and must, also include evacuation preparations and procedures to respond to a man-made disaster such as a threatened, or actual, nuclear, biological or chemical attack by terrorists or an accident at one or more of the chemical plants or refineries in our area.

Second, our region should develop a comprehensive GIS 3D Visualization Database of our current and planned physical facilities and infrastructure to actually visualize and help coordinate evacuations. The database should be combined with the use of GPS technology in vehicles such as On-Star combined with E-Z Tags, cell phone signals and Transtar’s cameras to track traffic in real-time during an evacuation to help reduce (or hopefully eliminate) traffic jams by being able to reroute traffic to under utilized alternative evacuation routes.

This system will help save lives. It should be developed and utilized with the highest concerns for safety and personal privacy.

Use of this type of system could be limited to a specific period of time before and after an emergency to address privacy concerns.

During an emergency, the system should be accessible from Transtar and the various satellite facilities wired to Transtar.

A GIS 3D Visualization Database of the existing physical facilities and infrastructure throughout the region (updated on a regular basis) would be an invaluable tool in helping to rebuild communities in the Houston region if they ever suffered significant physical destruction as a result of natural or man-made disaster. This type of database would also help local governments evaluate their tax revenue after a disaster.

Third, develop a voluntary Internet database of individuals throughout the region who will need transportation to be evacuated. The database should be accessible by computer or phone so that people can personally add and update information on where to pick them up. The database should be privacy protected and easily accessible like a college computer based registration system.

GIS technology should be used to organize the database so that it can be downloaded to GPS systems on public transit buses or to school buses so that they can be used to help pick up and transport, in an orderly and efficient manner, individuals who have acknowledged that they need transportation assistance to evacuate.

This system would also allow the public sector to partner with private companies with vehicles equipped with GPS systems to assist in transporting individuals who need transportation to evacuation. (Again, public safety would have to be a priority concern.)

Fourth, local transit systems, school districts and cities should enter into Mutual Aid Agreements to provide buses to those communities that need them to help transport residents out of harms way. If state or federal laws need to be changed to facilitate these agreements, they should be.

The state, cities and counties should request that FEMA and the federal government recognize expenses that are incurred under these Mutual Aid Agreements as reimbursable expenses.

Fifth, serious consideration should be given to increasing permanent gasoline/diesel fuel storage capacity along evacuation routes throughout the region. Depending on being able to truck in extra fuel on short notice may not always be possible. Ellington Field may be a good place to store extra fuel so that trucks would be moving with traffic if all lanes of I-45 are being used to move traffic north bound. Similar locations need to be identified along I-10 and Hwy 59.

Sixth, the definition of “essential” employees and determining when they will stay behind during an evacuation needs to be more clearly defined in both the public and private sectors. Also the identity and location of those individuals should be placed on an Internet database during an emergency so that they can be quickly accounted for during and after an evacuation.

Seventh, we need an on-going public education and awareness campaign on what we want the public to do, when we want them to do it, and how we want them to do it when they are called on to evacuate.

According to a Houston Chronicle/KHOU-TV Channel 11 poll in the aftermath of Rita, 70% of the people who evacuated did so out of fear while only 21% of those who evacuated were actually ordered to do so. (Kristen Mack, Rita Re-examined: How We Reacted, Houston Chronicle, October 6, 2005, pg. A1.)

Eighth, put the database of city and county jail inmates and individuals on parole and probation throughout the region on a secure Internet site accessible by law enforcement agencies so that it can be used to help locate these individuals in the aftermath of an evacuation. The database should be able to interface with FEMA’s database to cross-reference against FEMA applicants for emergency assistance. Public safety in the aftermath of a disaster must be maintained.

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