In Dicta

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Disaster preparations closer to home

"Since Hurricane Katrina, New York City officials have assured residents that the city is prepared to handle the kind of evacuation that a major hurricane would require. The city has plans to move people from areas that are likely to flood, plans to open shelters and reception centers, and plans to use public transportation to carry them there.

Most experts say the city's plans, if imperfect, are better thought out than those in other cities. They also say the city's mass transit network makes the plans for evacuating in advance of flooding or in the aftermath of isolated biological attacks more realistic than would be the case elsewhere.

These experts say there is no question that city officials have spent considerable time and money envisioning situations and developing strategies for dealing with them. But Katrina and the scenes that unfolded as Hurricane Rita howled toward Texas raised a question: Would it be possible to carry out a complete evacuation of New York City?

City officials do not pretend that it would be easy, or even doable. They say that very few situations would trigger such a necessity. Those situations are not hurricanes, but things like a nuclear event.

But even the "area evacuations" they envision for hurricanes-evacuations of zones they have already designated as likely to be flooded-could involve huge traffic jams. Given how many bridges and tunnels the city has, the jams in Houston could seem mild. And they say that moving hospital or nursing home patients completely out of the city would be an epic challenge.

Thus, after watching the disastrous, and in at least one instance deadly, backups in Houston, they have already tried to adjust their thinking about how to assist drivers who run out of gas. Yesterday, one official said, they worked out a plan to assign police escorts to gasoline trucks.

Officials are acutely aware that talking about an all-out evacuation is talking about something unprecedented in scope."

From The New York Times.

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