Lets Evacuate New Orleans

  • #1
russ_watters
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Main Question or Discussion Point

There have been some discussions on exactly how easy/hard it would have been to evacuate New Orleans prior to the hurricane hitting or even right after. It appeared to me that no one had planned for doing such a thing prior to the hurricane hitting. Lets actually figure out what it would take.

I'm going to guess there were 100,000 people left in NO when the hurricane hit, including those in shelters. Lets say the average bus (transit, tour, school) can hold about 40 people and a little luggage. That's 2,500 busloads.

Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio are all within about 500 miles of New Orleans. Call it about a 10 hour drive. With backup drivers, each bus employed could be taking its second load of people out of the city by the end of 24 hours. So that's 1,250 busses required.

So here's where I need help - how many buses were there in New Orleans at the time of the hurricane? How feasible would it have been to press 1,250 into service on Saturday? On any given weekday in September, pretty much all of the school buses and all of the transit buses would be operating. Making them operate on a Saturday would not be that difficult.

Naturally, once you evacuate the people, the buses and drivers would stay in Texas, on alert, to go back and pick up stragglers. 10,000 stragglers at a time would require 250 buses.

This sort of bus convoy coordination is not all that difficult to pull off. The service academies bus their entire student bodies and staff to the Army/Navy game every year. That's roughly 4,000 people in each convoy.
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
356
2
What about the army sticking people in flatbeds and the like?
 
  • #3
Skyhunter
Media Matters did a good job of debunking the lie told by Sean Hannity and others that New Orleans had "2000" buses.

According to a September 5, 2003, article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "The [Orleans Parish school] district owns 324 buses but 70 are broken down." A 2003 document posted on the Louisiana Department of Education's website confirms that Orleans Parish used 324 "board owned" school buses and no "contractor owned" school buses.
So approximately 250 school buses, and 350 RTA buses, that would be 600 buses total.

New Orleans' combined fleet of public transit and school buses would not have had nearly enough capacity to evacuate all of those who remained in the city. A July 8 Times-Picayune article, titled http://www.nola.com/news/t-p/metro/index.ssf?/base/news-10/1120800316204660.xml [Broken] pointed out that the RTA owned 364 public buses. "Even if the entire fleet was used," the Times-Picayune noted, "the buses would carry only about 22,000 people out of the city -- far short of the 134,000 people estimated to be without cars in a recent University of New Orleans study." Even the addition of the full school bus fleet would have been far from sufficient to transport the remaining residents.
http://mediamatters.org/items/200509120005

New Orleans needed help.

Smurf said:
What about the army sticking people in flatbeds and the like?
That would help. The National Guard could have done this.
 
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  • #4
BobG
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russ_watters said:
There have been some discussions on exactly how easy/hard it would have been to evacuate New Orleans prior to the hurricane hitting or even right after. It appeared to me that no one had planned for doing such a thing prior to the hurricane hitting. Lets actually figure out what it would take.

I'm going to guess there were 100,000 people left in NO when the hurricane hit, including those in shelters. Lets say the average bus (transit, tour, school) can hold about 40 people and a little luggage. That's 2,500 busloads.

Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio are all within about 500 miles of New Orleans. Call it about a 10 hour drive. With backup drivers, each bus employed could be taking its second load of people out of the city by the end of 24 hours. So that's 1,250 busses required.

So here's where I need help - how many buses were there in New Orleans at the time of the hurricane? How feasible would it have been to press 1,250 into service on Saturday? On any given weekday in September, pretty much all of the school buses and all of the transit buses would be operating. Making them operate on a Saturday would not be that difficult.

Naturally, once you evacuate the people, the buses and drivers would stay in Texas, on alert, to go back and pick up stragglers. 10,000 stragglers at a time would require 250 buses.

This sort of bus convoy coordination is not all that difficult to pull off. The service academies bus their entire student bodies and staff to the Army/Navy game every year. That's roughly 4,000 people in each convoy.
500 miles in 10 hours is a little unrealistic. The traffic moving out of New Orleans didn't look like it was going 50 mph.

On the other hand, they don't have to be moved to their final destination prior to the storm. They just have to be moved out of the immediate danger area. Granted, this would create a requirement to provide immediate water, medical, and other temporary support similar to the support requirements created by moving people to higher ground within the city, but a location even 75 miles inland would have been a more favorable location for providing that support.

If the bus only needed to make a 150 mile round trip, the possibility of each bus making two trips would seem feasible, but only because the evacuation went smoother for the folks that did evacuate (if the evacuation went as well as the evacuation for Hurricane Floyd, busloads of people would still be sitting on the freeway when the hurricane struck - you still have to account for a bad evacuation since it's virtually impossible to field test your procedures ahead of time).

The requirement for drivers wouldn't drop just because the requirement for buses dropped. You'd need at least two drivers per bus.

The best option would be to airlift evacuees out using a combination of civilian and military aircraft. That would have two disadvantages. It would require federal support even before the storm struck and it would be more expensive. A third disadvantage might be to make future evacuation problems even worse - a family sitting on the highway for 10-12 hours fretting if they're ever going to escape the storm might think it would be smarter to be one of the folks relying on airlift to get them out. Of course, people also like to evacuate their vehicles, so I wouldn't think that it would increase the air load that much. (People like their vehicles well enough that you can just about double the expected amount of highway traffic evacuating the storm.)
 
  • #5
468
4
Uh huh. Tell me, Russ, where would you get your bus drivers? It would be impossible to press 1,250 drivers into service. It's Saturday, and presumably, many of them have already left or are planning on leaving soon. How do you force them to stay behind and evacuate others? None of them have any motive to stay and help out, because they certainly couldn't get fired or jailed for not working on their day off, in the midst of an impending hurricane. It's not like they're police officers or anything, where they can be forcibly called in.
 
  • #6
60
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Since the buses left in New Orleans were, obviously, destroyed in the flooding, it would seem natural to use the thousands of working buses in the Houston area.

Why they didn't leave Houston on Tuesday after the storm and head to New Orleans is beyond me.
 
  • #7
loseyourname
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This is an engineering question, Russ. You should really put this thread in the engineering section. It's only going to become politicized in here and end up getting nowhere.
 
  • #8
Art
BobG said:
If the bus only needed to make a 150 mile round trip, the possibility of each bus making two trips would seem feasible, but only because the evacuation went smoother for the folks that did evacuate (if the evacuation went as well as the evacuation for Hurricane Floyd, busloads of people would still be sitting on the freeway when the hurricane struck - you still have to account for a bad evacuation since it's virtually impossible to field test your procedures ahead of time).
Wasn't there a one way system put in place with the inbound lanes reversed to aid the evacuation? The busses wouldn't have been able to return for a second pick-up.
 
  • #9
russ_watters
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Manchot said:
Uh huh. Tell me, Russ, where would you get your bus drivers? It would be impossible to press 1,250 drivers into service. It's Saturday, and presumably, many of them have already left or are planning on leaving soon. How do you force them to stay behind and evacuate others? None of them have any motive to stay and help out, because they certainly couldn't get fired or jailed for not working on their day off, in the midst of an impending hurricane.
Its pretty simple: you make it part of their job description and you pay them a reasonable sum for it. You've never worked on a Saturday before? :confused: :confused:
Skyhunter said:
So approximately 250 school buses, and 350 RTA buses, that would be 600 buses total.

New Orleans needed help.
Fair enough....
Since the buses left in New Orleans were, obviously, destroyed in the flooding, it would seem natural to use the thousands of working buses in the Houston area.

Why they didn't leave Houston on Tuesday after the storm and head to New Orleans is beyond me.
Well naturally a plan would need to be in place for such a thing long before the storm. That's what we're talking about here. New Orleans' disaster relief plan could very well include an agreement (with appropriate compensation, of course) to borrow buses and drivers from neighboring states.
BobG said:
500 miles in 10 hours is a little unrealistic. The traffic moving out of New Orleans didn't look like it was going 50 mph.
Well, they could be given special priority treatment, such as making them the only traffic on the wrong side of a highway. Regardless, you're right that they need not necessarily go straight to their final destination.
loseyourname said:
This is an engineering question, Russ. You should really put this thread in the engineering section. It's only going to become politicized in here and end up getting nowhere.
I considered that... perhaps I should have posted it in my thread there. I guess I figured that since such a plan would exist entirely on a city level, it wouldn't be possible to unpoliticise it.
 
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  • #10
55
9
How many military personnal have HGV licenses? I would have thought that they would have plenty of people available to drive the buses.
 
  • #11
67
165
Manchot said:
Uh huh. Tell me, Russ, where would you get your bus drivers? It would be impossible to press 1,250 drivers into service. It's Saturday, and presumably, many of them have already left or are planning on leaving soon. How do you force them to stay behind and evacuate others? None of them have any motive to stay and help out, because they certainly couldn't get fired or jailed for not working on their day off, in the midst of an impending hurricane. It's not like they're police officers or anything, where they can be forcibly called in.
If there had been better planning in advance there possibly would have been enough volunteer drivers.

If all of the vehicles lined up on the interstate trying to evacuate were anything like usual city interstate and freeway traffic, I wonder how many of those vehicles only had one or two occupants.
 
  • #12
loseyourname
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edward said:
If there had been better planning in advance there possibly would have been enough volunteer drivers.

If all of the vehicles lined up on the interstate trying to evacuate were anything like usual city interstate and freeway traffic, I wonder how many of those vehicles only had one or two occupants.
You know, that aint a bad idea, using carpools to enable evacuation efforts. That is probably something, though, that would best be organized at the neighborhood level, through local district councils and community organizations that have likely never even thought about disaster preparedness. Maybe part of what FEMA should do in the wake of this tragedy is to encourage local planning like that, maybe institute some kind of incentive program. I don't know, but it's a good idea. Good work thinking of it.
 
  • #13
BobG
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loseyourname said:
You know, that aint a bad idea, using carpools to enable evacuation efforts. That is probably something, though, that would best be organized at the neighborhood level, through local district councils and community organizations that have likely never even thought about disaster preparedness. Maybe part of what FEMA should do in the wake of this tragedy is to encourage local planning like that, maybe institute some kind of incentive program. I don't know, but it's a good idea. Good work thinking of it.
An incentive plan to reimburse owners for vehicles left behind in the flood? In practice, the typical family evacuation takes as many cars as there are drivers in the family and they keep in contact with each other by cell phone.
 
  • #14
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loseyourname said:
You know, that aint a bad idea, using carpools to enable evacuation efforts. That is probably something, though, that would best be organized at the neighborhood level, through local district councils and community organizations that have likely never even thought about disaster preparedness. Maybe part of what FEMA should do in the wake of this tragedy is to encourage local planning like that, maybe institute some kind of incentive program. I don't know, but it's a good idea. Good work thinking of it.
That would be extremely hard, if not impossible, to implement. During my service I had some experience working with civilian volunteers (though their purpose was a different type of emergencies). It is very hard to maintain an up-to-date list of volunteers for a small neighbourhood, not to mention having them periodically briefed. I really find it hard to believe anything resembling this plan can be implemented on a city-wide scale. People tend to forget how strong they feel about these civic duties once they stop making the evening news. By the time the next hurricane hits all that will be left of this plan will be piles of outdated lists of volunteers that have since changed addresses or sold their 10 seater van for a 2 seater pick-up.
However, had this sort of plan been enacted, I'm sure quite a few critics would be claiming this is another way FEMA is discriminating against poorer populations who have fewer vehicles.
I also think too many people would rather pack some more personal belongings in their cars than help strangers, but I lack the experience to make that judgment. I don't think I've ever met anyone from that region.

As for using buses from neighbouring cities: When making emergency plans you can rely only on your own resources.
What if the mayors or councils change and they don't approve of the plan any more (which is a very probable scenario)? What if the neighbouring city is also hit? What if whoever's in charge of that other city isn't convinced the situation requires activating the evacuation plan and disabling their city's bus system? How many excercises can you conduct if you need to coordinate them with neighbouring cities?
 

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