LSU’s Stephenson Disaster Management Institute provides comprehensive analysis for emergency responders and state officials
BATON ROUGE – The people of Southeast Louisiana are no strangers to evacuations, with three hurricanes—Katrina, Gustave, and Isaac—affecting the region in the past 12 years. The Stephenson Disaster Management Institute (SDMI), LSU’s applied research unit and a national leader in disaster preparedness practice, led a new study sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on evacuation behavior in the region. The study examined the impacts of these events on the region, and the planning implications for future evacuation-related events, with the goal of providing state and local officials better data on expected behavior to assist in preparing for future evacuations.
To better assist regional and state authorities in planning, the research examined past behavior and intent to evacuate in a 13-parish area. Specifically, the study built a methodology and identified the number of households that would require sheltering assistance in this area. The study found approximately 5% of this region’s population would require sheltering assistance in the event of an evacuation order, with nearly 3% affected primarily by at least one family member with access and/or functional needs that would require the use of a public shelter.
“When State and local government have data to back up what we observe, they can be strategic in their disaster preparedness planning”, said SDMI Director Brant Mitchell.. “This study is a resource we hope will allow emergency officials to better prepare for when the next major hurricane threatens southeast Louisiana”
About 1.8 million people live in southeast Louisiana. A large majority of those who were surveyed have experience with evacuations. About 63 percent evacuated during Hurricane Katrina; 42 percent evacuated during Hurricane Gustav; and 19 percent evacuating during Hurricane Isaac. Out of all respondents, 12 percent evacuated from all three storms.
According to James Waskom, the Director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), “Louisiana faces unique challenges when dealing with a tropical threat. The information gathered in the study will help GOHSEP and all levels of government with planning and execution of evacuation orders, likely saving lives. It will also help emergency managers target specific areas of concern with messaging to the public. It is important for the public to understand their role in the evacuation process”.
Overall, the population is well-educated about the risks of hurricanes and are respectful of the potential damages a hurricane may cause. More than 90 percent of those surveyed reported that they heed official’s instructions when given a mandatory evacuation order. “Ensuring the population in southeast Louisiana is properly prepared has been a consorted effort at all levels of government. The level of preparedness in southeast Louisiana is a great example of how the whole community approach has been successful. Public awareness campaigns initiated through partnerships with the Corps, FEMA, GOHSEP, and local governments have assisted in educating the public on the State’s evacuation plan as well as the hazards associated with a tropical cyclone. This effort is reflective in the study and demonstrated by the perceived risk of the population and its willingness to heed the evacuation orders of local governments” Mitchell said.
About 82 percent of residents surveyed expressed concern about the impact of a hurricane to their current home. Over the course of the three hurricanes that made landfall, 52 percent of the respondents have lived in the same home. For households located behind a levee system, including the Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS), 83% of the occupants stated they were somewhat confident or very confident that the system would prevent their homes from being flooded.
As expected based on the volume of evacuees and storm size, the travel time experienced by each respondent correlated to the number of people who evacuated for each hurricane. Total average travel time for Hurricane Katrina was 9.84 hours, while the average travel time was 7.03 hours during Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Isaac evacuees spent about 4.45 hours traveling.
Since Hurricane Katrina, FEMA, GOHSEP and local governments have placed significant resources in developing plans and building capacity to aid citizens who lacked transportation resources to evacuate. This plan was fully executed during Hurricane Gustav in 2008. Nineteen percent of the survey participants in the City of New Orleans and 9% in Jefferson Parish stated that participated in this assistance. Over 95% of the respondents who participated, state they would use this service again.
In addition, the City of New Orleans has developed their City Assisted Evacuation Plan with very visible EvacuSpots for citizens to go to if they need transportation assistance during an evacuation. When asked if respondents living in New Orleans were aware of these locations, 52% indicated that they knew where the EvacuSpots were located. “The City Assisted Evacuation Plan is supported by the Evacuteer non-profit and having over 50% of the population already aware of where they need to go should they need assistance is a good measure of how successful the outreach campaign to raise awareness for this vital program has been” stated Michelle Meyer, lead author of the report and Associate Director of Research for SDMI and LSU faculty member in the Department of Sociology.
The study is part of a comprehensive effort to assist emergency planners in preparing for future hurricanes. In addition to the behavioral analysis, a hazard analysis, vulnerability analysis, shelter analysis and transportation analysis are also being conducted. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is providing project management for the entire project on behalf of FEMA. Dewberry partnered with LSU to conduct the behavioral analysis and will continue working on the vulnerability and shelter analysis. Results from the behavioral analysis, such as number of people who will evacuate, how many vehicles they will take and where they will go, will be used by FEMA to assist in the completion of the transportation analysis. Once completed the transportation analysis will provide state and local officials with an analysis of traffic volumes, evacuation routes, destinations and evacuation clearance times for southeast Louisiana.
For this study, the LSU Public Policy Research Lab conducted a telephone survey of more than 2,600 people in the 13 parishes that comprise southeast Louisiana. The study was conducted between May 2016 and January 2017, then submitted through Dewberry, the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.