Task Force on Hurricane Evacuations Issues Report to Gov. Perry
Vows to Begin Working With Legislators to Implement Recommendations
Gov. Rick Perry today officially received the final report of the Task Force on Evacuation Transportation and Logistics and said he will begin working with legislators to implement recommendations that will save lives the next time a major storm threatens the Texas coast.
"The Task Force on Evacuation, Transportation and Logistics has now given us a roadmap to make coastal evacuations safer and more efficient based on detailed advanced planning, and changes to our command and control structure," Perry said. "This report will improve planning and coordination, which will result in a more effective hurricane response when lives hang in the balance and every second counts."
Last September, following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Perry, with Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and Houston Mayor Bill White, appointed the task force, which then held hearings across the state to gather input from state and local officials and the public. Both White and Eckels joined him at a news conference announcing the report, as did several other key officials.
"I formed this task force because, while I believe we successfully achieved our objective of evacuating coastal Texans in advance of the landfall of Rita, we could have done a better job," Perry said. "I welcome their report, and I look forward to working with legislators and local leaders in implementing recommendations that will save lives the next time a large storm eyes our coast."
The report makes recommendations in the five key areas of command, control and communications; evacuation of people with special needs; fuel availability; traffic flow; and public awareness. Perry pointed out that many aspects of the report necessarily require more detailed planning.
For example, the report recommends that the Texas Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety develop a detailed contra-flow plan for key interstates and highways, and that execution of that plan occur before an evacuation begins. It also calls for fuel and aid stations at regular intervals along an evacuation route to help Texans caught in gridlock as they evacuate.
"The fact is there is no magic formula to end gridlock in Houston on an average workday, let alone when a couple million people or more head for the highways within a few hours of each other," Perry said. "Our aim is to make the situation better by locating fuel stations and aid stations along the evacuation route."
The report also recommends that all licensed and unlicensed special needs facilities, such as nursing homes, maintain up-to-date evacuation plans, which is currently not required of unlicensed facilities, and calls upon local officials to develop a database of Texans with special needs, which would help ensure that those who cannot evacuate by themselves get the assistance they need.
"Hurricanes cross jurisdictional boundaries," Perry said. "That's why it is important for the state to have a greater coordinating role, and for local implementation to occur under a regional command structure as the report recommends. If this report is implemented, I believe it will lead to more orderly evacuations in the future, and saved lives."
Perry also thanked the 14 task force members for their work and the support many local elected leaders showed during this review process.
Specific recommendations of the Task Force are:
Command Control and Communications
* The legislature should provide the Governor with the explicit authority to order multi-jurisdictional evacuations and to coordinate those evacuations through the State Operations Center.
* Develop and implement a statewide hurricane and evacuation plan.
* Develop and implement a regional response and evacuation plan.
* The Governor should direct the immediate implementation of the Regional Unified Command Structure throughout the State of Texas.
* DPS should assume control for all command, control and communications operations outside the control of Regional Unified Command.
* DPS should assume authority over designated evacuation route roadways during events outside the control of RUC.
* Create at least eight Regional Response Teams to support multi-jurisdictional evacuations.
* Ensure that all public education facilities make their transportation assets and facilities available to local governments for evacuation and sheltering during a disaster.
* The Governor should direct an annual statewide hurricane evacuation exercise to test state and local evacuation and sheltering plans and execution.
* Direct the development and implementation of a statewide special needs evacuation and shelter plan.
* Direct all licensed and unlicensed special needs facilities to maintain evacuation plans that have been approved by the local jurisdiction and the Regional Unified Command.
* Direct the development and implementation of a special needs evacuation database with priority for evacuating coastal jurisdictions.
* Direct the development and implementation of a shelter plan for pets.
* The Texas Department of Transportation should be directed to work with the Texas Oil and Gas Association and industry partners to develop a plan to address fuel availability along major evacuation routes.
* Local governments should ensure fuel availability for an evacuation.
* The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDoT) should develop contra-flow plans for major hurricane evacuation routes.
* The state should coordinate with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to ensure that checkpoints on major hurricane evacuation routes do not impede traffic flow
* TxDoT should upgrade the one-lane section of Highway 290 at Brenham immediately.
* TxDoT should prioritize evacuate route infrastructure projects recommended in the March 2005 Report to the Governor on Hurricane Preparedness.
* Utility companies that provide service to Texas counties in hurricane evacuation zones should include hurricane preparedness and public awareness information in monthly billing statements at least twice during the hurricane season each year. Other forms of communication should be developed to inform citizens of the location of their property in relation to hurricane surge zones.
* The Texas Legislature should activate the Disaster Contingency Fund to support state and local agencies as they plan for, and execute evacuations.