Federal Evacuation Policy: Issues for Congress
Federal Evacuation Policy: Issues for Congress
November 12, 2008
Bruce R. Lindsay
Analyst in Emergency Management Policy
Government and Finance Division
Federal Evacuation Policy: Issues for Congress
When government officials become aware of an impending disaster they may
take steps to protect citizens before the incident occurs. Evacuation of the
geographic area that may be affected is an option to ensure public safety. If
implemented properly, evacuation can be an effective strategy for saving lives.
Evacuations and decisions to evacuate, however, can also entail complex factors and
elevated risks. Decisions to evacuate may require officials to balance potentially
costly, hazardous, or unnecessary evacuations against the possibility of loss of life
due to a delayed order to evacuate.
Some observers of evacuations, notably that from New Orleans during
Hurricane Katrina, claim evacuations pose unique challenges to certain segments of
society. From their perspective, special-needs populations, the transit-dependent,
and individuals with pets faced particular hardships associated with the storm. This,
they claim, is because some evacuation plans, and the way in which they were carried
out, appeared to inadequately address their particular circumstances or needs.
In responding to these challenges, Then-senator Obama introduced S. 1685 inth
the 109 Congress which would have directed the Secretary of Homeland Security
to ensure that each state provided detailed and comprehensive information regarding
its pre-disaster and post-disaster plans for the evacuation of individuals with special
needs in emergencies. President-elect Obama indicated during his campaign that he
would continue to pursue similar evacuation polices.
Another facet of evacuation is sheltering displaced individuals. For short-term
sheltering, federally provided resources include food, water, cots, and essential
toiletries. When displaced individuals need long-term sheltering, federal policy
provides financial assistance for alternative accommodations such as apartments,
motels and hotels, recreational vehicles, and modular units.
While federal law provides for certain aspects of civilian emergency evacuation,
evacuation policy generally is established and enforced by state and local officials.th
In the 110 Congress, Members of Congress focused, in part, on policy options that
addressed issues of equity during evacuations as well as attempts to integrate federal,
state, and local evacuation efforts more fully. Examples of such legislation
introduced in the 110th Congress include H.Res. 1376, H.R. 534, H.R. 535, H.R.
This report discusses federal evacuation policy and analyzes potential lessons
learned from the evacuation of individuals from Hurricane Katrina. Several issue
areas that might arise concerning potential lawmaking and oversight on evacuation
policy are also highlighted. This report will be updated as significant legislative or
administrative changes occur.
In troduction ..................................................1
Examples of Federal Evacuation Policy ............................2
Evacuations: Lessons Learned....................................4
General Lessons Learned from Evacuations.....................4
Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and Rita.................4
Potential Congressional Issues....................................6
Low-Income Individuals and Households.......................7
Evacuating Foreign Nationals................................7
Federal, State, and Local Integration...........................7
Re-entry into Evacuated Zones...............................9
Citizen Participation in Evacuation Planning....................9
Returning and Relocating Evacuees..........................10
List of Tables
Table 1. Selected Federal Evacuation Authorities .......................12
Federal Evacuation Policy:
Issues for Congress
I ntr oducti on1
Threats of impending disasters — such as hurricanes, floods, volcanic eruptions,
the movement of airborne hazardous material, or unstable conditions at nuclear
power plants — may provide officials an opportunity to save lives by encouraging
or mandating civilian evacuation. Moving a population out of harm’s way through
evacuation can save lives and substantially reduce exposure to hazards. Evacuations,
however, can create complex challenges for officials and emergency managers. For
example, officials need to time the evacuation accurately to ensure the impending
disaster does not occur while people are evacuating. Evacuations can also be
hazardous. Reportedly, more people died during the Hurricane Rita evacuation than2
from the actual hurricane. Officials also need to take into account individuals who
lack adequate transportation or have special needs. Special-needs individuals
generally require more time to prepare to evacuate and travel out of the area. In such
cases, it may be safer to have the special-needs population remain in the area and3
“shelter in place.”
Evacuation has three basic components. First is the departure of people from
a stricken or threatened area. Second is the temporary resettlement of evacuees, and
the provision of shelter and resources to them. Third is the final return of evacuees
to either to their predisaster residence, or an alternate location. This report examines4
the federal role in the removal and return of citizens from affected areas. The report
reviews potential lessons learned from the Hurricane Katrina5 evacuation. It also
suggests several policy options that Congress might consider if it wished to integrate
federal, state, and local evacuation efforts more fully, or address some of the social
disparities that could complicate or hinder evacuations.
1 This report has been adapted from CRS Report RS22235, Disaster Evacuation and
Displacement Policy: Issues for Congress, by Keith Bea.
2 “In Texas, Governor Orders Improvements to Evacuation Plans,” New York Times, March
3 “Shelter in place” refers to taking protective measures while remaining in the affected area.
4 Another component of evacuation is sheltering. For more information on federal sheltering
policy, see CRS Report RL34087, FEMA Disaster Housing and Hurricane Katrina:
Overview, Analysis, and Congressional Issues by Francis X. McCarthy.
5 Hurricane Katrina made U.S. landfall on August 29, 2005.
Examples of Federal Evacuation Policy
In general, federal policy defers to the states to enact laws pertinent to
evacuation.6 Using authority from state laws and local ordinances, state and local
officials may suggest or require the evacuation of residents from homes and
communities before certain catastrophes occur.7 Rather than taking the lead in
evacuations, the federal government facilitates the evacuation process through federal
statutes that authorize agency heads to use federal resources to assist in the
evacuation of civilians. Brief descriptions of four federal authorities follow.
Stafford Act : Pre-Hurricane Katrina. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster
and Relief Emergency Assistance Act (hereafter the Stafford Act) authorizes the
President to direct the Secretary of Defense to use resources to perform necessary
emergency work to preserve life and property. This may take place even before the
President issues a major disaster or emergency declaration.8 The President may also
issue the declaration before the incident to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe
by providing assistance for “precautionary evacuations.” 9
Stafford Act: Post Hurricane Katrina. As mentioned previously, the final
component of an evacuation is the return of evacuees to their predisaster residences
or, if needed, to alternative locations. As amended by the Post Katrina Emergency
Management Reform Act of 2006 (hereafter the Post Katrina Act), Section 425 of the
Stafford Act states that the President may provide transportation assistance to
“relocate individuals displaced from their predisaster primary residences as a result
of an incident ... or otherwise transported from their predisaster primary residences
... to and from alternative locations for short or long-term accommodation or to return
an individual or household to their predisaster primary residence or alternative
location, as determined by the President.” Under this authority the role of the federal
government has been expanded not only to assist in the removal of citizens, but to
return disaster victims, or to relocate them. Scant information exists on the
implementation of this relatively new authority for the return of evacuees to their
predisaster residence. The issue of returning evacuees to their residences will be
touched on later in the report.
National Response Framework. Another way in which the federal
government facilitates evacuations is through assigning roles and responsibilities to
6 The appendix to this report identifies selected federal statutory citations that appear to be
most pertinent to domestic evacuation. This report does not comprehensively review all
federal evacuation policies.
7 State laws generally authorize governors to order and enforce the evacuation of residents
under emergency situations. See CRS Report RL32287, Emergency Management and
Homeland Security Statutory Authorities in the States, District of Columbia, and Insular
Areas: A Summary, by Keith Bea, L. Cheryl Runyon, and Kae M. Warnock.
8 42 U.S.C. 5170b(c). For background on the Stafford Act and presidential declaration
authority, see CRS Report RL33053, Federal Stafford Act Disaster Assistance: Presidential
Declarations, Eligible Activities, and Funding, by Keith Bea.
9 42 U.S.C. § 5192(a)(1).
various federal agencies, states and localities, and nonprofit organizations. The
National Response Framework (NRF), administered by the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS),
establishes the roles and responsibilities of federal and certain non-federal entities
when incidents overwhelm state or local governments. For example, the NRF
identifies state, local, and tribal governments as having the responsibility of
“ordering the evacuation of persons from any portions of the state threatened by the
incident, giving consideration to the requirements of special-needs populations and
those with household pets or service animals.”10
The NRF includes “Incident Annexes,” which are documents that address
specific hazard situations.11 One of the annexes, the Mass Evacuation Incident
Annex, assigns DHS and FEMA the responsibility of coordinating mass evacuations.
With the support of other federal agencies and nonprofit organizations, the Annex
also provides overall guidance for integrating the efforts of federal, state, local, and
tribal governments during the evacuation of large numbers of people. According to
Federal support to mass evacuation operations will be provided at the state/tribal
level and scaled to the incident.... Regardless of the scale of the incident,
coordination among numerous command entities will be required to carry out the12
major functions of evacuation operations.
National Hurricane Program. Established in 1985, FEMA’s National
Hurricane Program (NHP) helps protect communities from hurricane hazards through
various projects and activities. The NHP also provides assistance to state and local
agencies in developing hurricane evacuation plans. One of the ways this is achieved
is through NHP’s Hurricane Evacuation Studies (HES). HES helps states and
localities determine the probable effects of a hurricane, identify appropriate shelters,
and predict public response to a hurricane and hurricane advisories.13
NHP also conducts hazard and vulnerability analyses for coastal communities.
Analyses include an assessment of a hurricane’s impact, a review of existing roads
and transportation systems, and an analysis of the population (e.g., demographic
characteristics). The information gained from analyses helps communities determine
evacuation zones (areas vulnerable to the hurricane), develop evacuation maps, and
determine clearance times.
10 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, National Response Framework, January 2008,
11 There are seven Incident Annexes that accompany the NRF: Biological, Food and
Agriculture, Mass Evacuation, Nuclear/Radiological, Catastrophic, Cyber, and Terrorism
Incident Law Enforcement and Investigation.
12 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Mass Evacuation Incident Annex, June 2008, p.
13 Information on the National Hurricane Program can be obtained at
[ h t t p : / / www.f e ma .gov/ p l a n/ pr event / nhp/ ] .
Evacuations: Lessons Learned
General Lessons Learned from Evacuations. Studies on evacuations
have identified several techniques that can make evacuations more effective. For
example, informing citizens about evacuation routes and shelter locations as part of
a community preparedness activity can help reduce the amount of time it takes for a
household to evacuate. Without this information, households are generally slow to14
react to an evacuation order. Making provisions, such as gasoline, portable
restrooms, and water available along the route can also positively influence the
effectiveness of an evacuation. Having tow trucks along egress routes to move
vehicles can also help to keep the roads clear.15
The use of hazard analyses and evacuation analyses may also produce a more
effective evacuation. Hazard analyses are used to identify areas susceptible to a
hazard’s impact. Evacuation analyses assess the size of the affected population and
its capability to transport itself. Additionally, evacuation analyses help identify
modes of transportation to be used in the evacuation and potential evacuation routes.
These lessons were derived primarily from disasters and emergencies such as
wildfires, hazardous material spills, and hurricanes that would not be categorized as
a large-scale, or catastrophic incident. The evacuations as a result of some of these
do not involve long-term displacement, or the need to evacuate a large population.
Hurricane Katrina and Rita, however, did offer lessons on large-scale evacuations.
Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and Rita. Hurricanes Katrina
and Rita increased our knowledge of evacuations from large-scale incidents. Studies
and reports covering the evacuations prompted by Hurricane Katrina also found16
techniques that make evacuations more effective. In general, they stated that
implementation of the evacuations of many of the individuals affected by Hurricane
Katrina went relatively smoothly because of successful evacuation procedures. Some
examples of these procedures include the use of traffic management techniques such
as “contra-flow” (making the in-bound and out-bound lanes uni-directional) which
proved to be very effective. The use of conference calls to coordinate evacuation
efforts also produced positive results.
However, reports also asserted that other aspects of the evacuations needed
significant improvement. The evacuation of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish was
14 Ronald W. Perry, Michael K. Lindell, and Marjorie R. Greene, Evacuation Planning in
Emergency Management (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1981), p. 145.
15 Ronald W. Perry and Michael K. Lindell, Emergency Planning (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley
and Sons, 2007), pp. 172-173.
16 Examples include U.S. Congress, House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the
Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, A Failure of Initiative, 109th Cong., 2nd
sess., H.Rept. 109-377 (Washington: GPO, 2006); U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Stillthnd
Unprepared, 109 Cong., 2 sess., S.Rept. 109-322 (Washington: GPO, 2006); and Todd
Litman, Lessons From Katrina and Rita: What Major Disasters Teach Transportation
Planners,” Journal of Transportation Engineering, vol. 132, no. 11 (January 2006).
particularly troublesome; In fact, they were so problematic they tended to negatively
shape public perception of the evacuation as a whole.
One account that criticized the Hurricane Katrina evacuation said that the call
to evacuate appeared to be “weak, bureaucratic, and confusing.”17 Perhaps as a result
of such criticisms, calls to evacuate during Hurricane Ike18 used stronger language to
convey the seriousness of the event. It is unclear, however, if stronger language was
more effective than other factors in getting individuals to heed notices to evacuate.
Another factor that influenced the way in which people were evacuated for Hurricane
Ike was the experience of gasoline shortages and gridlock. In some disasters, a
phenomenon known as “shadow evacuation” takes place. Shadow evacuations
consist of individuals leaving the area without being told to do so. During the
Hurricane Rita evacution, non-mandated departures burdened evacuation routes and
created fuel shortages. In Hurricane Ike, efforts such as persuading individuals in
non-evacuation zones not to leave, and asking families not to evacuate in multiple
vehicles helped reduce shadow evacuations.19
The Hurricane Katrina evacuations also underscored the significance of timing
an evacuation. According to one view, large metropolitan areas generally need 48
hours to evacuate (for Louisiana, the preferred minimum amount of time to conduct
a major evacuation is 72 hours).20 However, the earlier an evacuation is ordered, the
greater the likelihood there will be an error in the weather forecast. The inability to
predict a storm track compounds the difficulties of evacuation decision making.
In the case of Hurricane Katrina, evacuations were declared late, or not at all,
in two of Louisiana’s most populous areas: New Orleans and Jefferson Parish.
According to one congressional report, a more complete evacuation of these areas
could have saved lives and reduced human suffering.21 Another congressional report
concluded that the incomplete evacuation led to the need for a post-hurricane
evacuation. Federal, state, and local officials had not anticipated the need for a
second evacuation. As a consequence, problems in communication, lack of
situational awareness, and a shortage of bus drivers resulted in poor implementation
of the second evacuation.22
17 Douglas Brinkley, The Great Deluge (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), p. 59.
18 Hurricane Ike made U.S. landfall on September 13, 2008.
19 Interview of Mayor Bill White by Jim Lehrer on the PBS Newshour, aired September 11,
20 Ivan Van Veerden and Mike Brown, The Storm (New York: Viking, 2006), p. 47.
21 U.S. Congress, House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and
Response to Hurricane Katrina, A Failure of Initiative, 109th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Rept. 109-
22 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs,
Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared, 109th Cong., 2nd sess., S.Rept. 109-322
(Washington: GPO, 2006), pp. 594-595.
Economically disadvantaged individuals, those with pets, and special-needs
populations23 also experienced difficulty during the evacuations. Some households
who wished to leave the area could not because of a lack of transportation. Special-
needs populations were underserved because some were too frail for transport.24
Others depended on service animals (animals that are trained to perform tasks for
individuals with disabilities, such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people
who are deaf, or pulling wheelchairs). Some of these individuals were helpless
because their animals could not navigate flooded streets. Others elected not to
evacuate because shelters had no provisions for their pets and they feared leaving
their pets behind.
Much of the post-Hurricane Katrina legislation is directed at these problems.
For example, some of the legislation enacted after Hurricane Katrina includes grants
for states and localities to develop evacuation plans and ensure that these plans
include provisions for special needs populations. Another example is legislation
directed toward ensuring that evacuation plans address individuals with household
pets and service animals. Table 1 in the appendix to this report includes some of this
Finally, the House report25 concluded that the responsibility to evacuate did not
reside solely within the government. Many individuals were aware of the need to
evacuate but chose not to. Some had waited out hurricanes in the past and believed
they could do the same for Hurricane Katrina. Others simply failed to recognize the
seriousness of the hurricane. Despite the severity of the event, the amount of
evacuation planning that takes place, and the necessary resources at hand, there will
always be individuals who choose to remain in the affected area.
Potential Congressional Issues
During a review of issues related to evacuation, displacement, and sheltering
policies, Congress might move to consider options for better integrating federal,
state, and local efforts during evacuation. Congress might also review options
addressing issues of inequity, encourage changes that could make the decision to
evacuate more precise, or take no action.
23 Examples of special-needs populations identified in FEMA’s Interim Emergency
Management Planning Guide for Special Needs Populations (August 15, 2008) include
individuals in need of additional response assistance, individuals with disabilities,
individuals who live in institutionalized settings, elderly individuals, children, people from
diverse cultures who have limited English proficiency or who are non-English speaking, and
those who lack transportation.
24 David M. Dosa, Nancy Grossman, Terrie Wetle, and Vincent Mor, “To Evacuate or Not
to Evacuate: Lessons Learned From Louisiana Nursing Home Administrators Following
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, vol.
25 U.S. Congress, House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and
Response to Hurricane Katrina, A Failure of Initiative, 109th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Rept.
Low-Income Individuals and Households. The Stafford Act stipulates
that relief and assistance be provided “without discrimination on the grounds of ...26
economic status.” FEMA has responsibility to provide for the evacuation of
disaster victims and provide for evacuation as part of federal emergency preparedness27
efforts. Congress might assess whether existing evacuation plans and procedures
comport with the requirements of the Stafford Act, and whether other efforts are
required to ensure that low-income individuals and households receive necessary aid.
For example, H.Res. 1376 emphasizes hurricane preparedness measures, enhanced
evacuation and emergency plans, and disaster response training to prevent disparities
in disaster response and disproportionate impacts of natural disasters for
economically disadvantaged communities.
Evacuating Foreign Nationals.28 Foreign nationals living in the United
States face particular problems during natural disasters. Lack of adequate documents
for personal identification — a problem for many victims as a result of being
evacuated from their homes or the loss of or damage to personal items and records
— has specific consequences under immigration laws. Enforcement of immigration
laws may also inhibit foreign nationals’ access to emergency disaster relief.
According to §401 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity
Reconciliation Act of 1996, unauthorized aliens are eligible for short-term, in-kind
emergency disaster relief and services or assistance that deliver in-kind services at
the community level, provide assistance without individual determinations of each
recipient’s needs, and are necessary for the protection of life and safety.
Unauthorized aliens who are receiving federal disaster aid, however, have no
immunity from deportation, according to DHS officials. In the aftermath of
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, many displaced aliens reportedly feared that
seeking government help might lead to their deportation. DHS arrested, detained,
and ordered deported an unspecified number of unauthorized aliens displaced by the
2005 hurricanes.29 It is possible that this situation may inhibit those who fear
deportation from evacuating, potentially placing these individuals at risk during
catastrophic incidents. Congress might elect to review the relationship between
evacuation policy and immigration policy.
Federal, State, and Local Integration. In conjunction with DHS, the U.S.
Department of Transportation issued a report entitled Report to Congress on
Catastrophic Hurricane Evacuation Plan Evaluation. The report found that federal,
state, and local emergency plans and operations for evacuations were not well
26 42 U.S.C. 5151(b).
27 6 U.S.C. 314(a)(9)(C).
28 This section was authored by Ruth Ellen Wasem, CRS Specialist in Immigration Policy.
29 For a more complete analysis, see CRS Report RL34500, Unauthorized Aliens’ Access
to Federal Benefits: Policy and Issues, by Ruth Ellen Wasem; CRS Congressional
Distribution Memorandum, Noncitizen Eligibility for Disaster-Related Assistance, by
Alison Siskin, February 15, 2002; and CRS Report RL33091, Hurricane Katrina-Related
Immigration Issues and Legislation, by Ruth Ellen Wasem.
integrated.30 Congress could consider measures to improve jurisdictional integration.
For example, S. 3181 would grant funding for the purposes of planning, coordination,
execution, and decision-making related to mass evacuation during a disaster. The
measure also would stipulate that the governors of the State of West Virginia and the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or their designees, be incorporated into efforts to
integrate the activities of federal, state, and local governments in the National Capital
Technology. Congress might consider expanding FEMA grants for the
research and development of emerging technologies that could improve evacuation
planning and decision-making. Such advances in technology include the use of
geographic information systems (GIS) to help emergency managers make more
informed decisions regarding evacuations. Some of the ways in which GIS can be
used are determining efficient evacuation routes and identifying and mapping areas
containing populations who might have difficulty evacuating (e.g., nursing home
residents, hospital patients, and non-English speaking groups). Recently, GIS and
aerial photography were combined to create a real-time application called “Virtual
Alabama.” The program offers a panoramic view of the Alabama coastline allowing
emergency mangers to direct assets and responders where they are needed most. The
program also allows for real-time evacuation routing and vehicle and asset tracking.31
A citizen-evacuation system is also being developed that employs
radio-frequency identification (RFID) and wireless technologies to help individuals
during emergencies and disasters. When finished, the system should provide
real-time information on evacuees to assist officials in tracking the evacuation of
special-needs populations and tracking individuals to help reunite families after an
emergency or a disaster. The system is also designed to help reduce the number of
dangerous search-and-rescue operations that need to be conducted during and after32
Another example of an emerging technology might be a software tool that
applies operations research methods to help emergency managers better decide33
whether and when to order evacuations. Using operation research methods enables
a modeler to identify bottlenecks in evacuations and used to predict problems and
solutions for a complex evacuation situation. Such tools might aid the emergency
30 U.S. Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland
Security, Report to Congress on Catastrophic Hurricane Evacuation Plan Evaluation, June
gov/ reports/hurricanevacuation/chapter5.htm] .
31 Testimony of Alabama Department of Homeland Security Director James M. Walker, Jr.,
in U.S. Congress, House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Management,
Investigations, and oversight, Ready to Lead? DHS and the Next Major Catastrophe, 110th
Cong., June 11, 2008. See [http://homeland.house.gov/SiteDocuments/20080611154609-
32 Michael Keating, “Texas Taps AT&T to Develop Emergency Evacuation and Notification
Tool,” GovPro, December 5, 2007, [http://www.govpro.com/News/Article/76845/].
33 Operations Research applies mathematical modeling, statistics, probability queuing
theory, decision analysis, and similar techniques to solve complex management problems.
managers in conducting evacuations more efficiently by clearing out inhabitants in
stages. Software and other tools could also help planners optimize the location of
relief supplies before a hurricane made landfall.34 Congress could consider
approaches for making such technology more readily available to state and local
emergency managers, or fund further research in the area.
Re-entry into Evacuated Zones. Evacuation policy may present difficult
choices to inhabitants of hazardous areas. Individuals who choose not to evacuate
remain in their residences and retain access to their property. Whereas, in some
instances, evacuees may not be granted reentry to their residences for prolonged
periods of time. This tension may be problematic for the implementation of
evacuation policy for at least two reasons. First, it creates a disincentive to evacuate
and potentially places individuals at risk because some may be concerned about being
absent from their property for a prolonged period. Second, it may create an inequity
between those who evacuate and those who stay, because those who remain may be
able to protect their property and begin the recovery process more quickly than those
who evacuate. If this topic were of interest, Congress might explore options related
to this tension. For example, Congress might create incentives for individuals to
evacuate and create mechanisms to ensure a timely yet safe return to an evacuated
Many city and county codes require damaged residences to be inspected before
individuals are allowed to re-enter their homes. After large disasters, however, there
often is a lack of inspectors available for conducting inspections. If this were of
concern, Congress might consider expanding the Stafford Act’s Public Assistance
program35 to include programs that bring outside inspectors to an affected area to
hasten the inspection process.
Citizen Participation in Evacuation Planning. It has been argued that the
success of an evacuation is significantly enhanced when citizens participate in
evacuation planning. Citizens are less likely to resist evacuation orders when there
is increased citizen participation because they believe they had a say in how the
evacuations should be conducted.36 Congress might explore options for increasing
citizen participation in state and local evacuation planning. Such options might
increase citizen “buy-in” and could lead to more complete evacuations.
Evacuation Fatigue. Hurricanes generally occur in close succession, which
sometimes necessitates more than one evacuation. Under such circumstances
individuals may become “burned out” and reluctant to heed orders to evacuate. This
was a concern for officials during Hurricane Ike; they stated that evacuation fatigue
may have contributed to an incomplete evacuation. If Congress wished to address
34 For example, see MIT News, Saving Lives Through Smarter Hurricane Evacuations,
David Chandler, MIT News Office, August 28, 2008, available at [http://web.mit.edu/
35 42 U.S.C. 5172 § 406
36 Ronald Perry and Alvin Mushkatel, Minority Citizens in Disasters, University of Georgia
Press (Georgia: 1986), p. 144.
this issue, it could offer grants to universities and colleges to study evacuation fatigue
and produce methods to increase citizen participation in evacuations, even when they
occur in succession.
Returning and Relocating Evacuees. As discussed earlier in this report,
the Post Katrina Act amends Section 425 of the Stafford Act to provide
transportation assistance to relocate displaced individuals to and from alternative
locations for short or long-term accommodation, or to return an individual or
household to their predisaster primary residence, or alternative location.
This amendment expands the role of the federal government beyond merely
assisting states and localities in evacuations by authorizing the federal government
to return evacuees to their predisaster residence. Furthermore, administering the
return of evacuees raises issues that may involve oversight by Congress. If evacuees
were flown out of the area, does the federal government cover the cost for return
airfare? Or can the return of evacuees be accomplished with a less expensive mode
of transportation such as a bus? Since the Hurricane Katrina evacuation, many
individuals and households have purchased new furnishing and belongings. Is the
federal government responsible to pay for the return of these belongings? If so, the
federal government may have to reimburse individuals and households for such items
as moving vans and rental trucks. If individuals and households do not get
reimbursed for moving their belongings, some may not have the economic means to
do so themselves.
On August 13, 2008, the National Advisory Committee (NAC)37 stated that
while it supports the return of disaster victims to their homes when transported by
FEMA, NAC could not reach a consensus on how to proceed with the return policy
and identified some concerns relating to the issue.38 For one, NAC noted that
providing transportation for evacuees back to their homes may prove to be difficult
for FEMA to manage. Another concern was the clarity of the policy. NAC requested
that FEMA establish clear guidance concerning the criteria for transportation
assistance. Some may argue that such concerns may indicate a need for
congressional oversight. If this amendment proves costly or difficult to administer,
Congress may elect to re-examine this policy.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, evacuations were primarily a state and local
responsibility. Because of lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, federal policy has
become more active and establishes standards to be met. Federal legislation
37 The National Advisory Council (NAC) advises the Administrator of FEMA on all aspects
of emergency management. NAC incorporates input from state, local, and tribal
governments, as well as the private sector in the development and revision of the national
preparedness goal, the national preparedness system, the National Incident Management
System (NIMS), the National Response Framework (NRF), as well as other related plans
38 Minutes from the National Advisory Council meeting in Washington DC, held on August
authorizing the return or relocation of evacuees was enacted after Hurricane Katrina.
Also, Congress amended the Stafford Act to ensure that transportation-dependent
groups are included in state and local evacuation plans. President-elect Obama’s
platform of addressing the requirements of special-needs populations in evacuation
policy may also deepen federal involvement.39
As the federal government becomes more involved in evacuations, there may
be a fundamental shift in the roles and responsibilities of the various actors involved
in evacuations. Federal assumption of more responsibility in evacuations creates
standards and guidelines for states and localities to follow. While some may contend
that this shift will save lives, others may argue that an increased federal role will
intrude on state sovereignty, or be an unfunded mandate.
As it currently stands, states and localities will have to increase planning,
dedicate resources, and possibly shift priorities as they work to ensure special-needs
groups are not left out of evacuation plans. The identification of transportation-
dependent groups is part of the evacuation process. A United States Government
Accountability Office (GAO) report stated that some emergency management
officials did not have a good understanding of the size, location, and composition of
the transportation disadvantaged in their community.40 Beyond the issues discussed
in this report, Congress might elect to monitor how well states are (1) identifying
populations in their jurisdiction that may experience difficultly evacuating, (2)
incorporating these groups in their evacuation plans, and updating them periodically
as demographic characteristics change, and (3) inquiring how well states and
localities are anticipating potential problems in their evacution planning, rather than
merely using the lessons learned from past failures.
39 Obama and Biden 2008 campaign website, [http://origin.barackobama.com/issues/
40 United States Government Accountability Office, Disaster Preparedness: Preliminary
Observations on the Evacuation of Vulnerable Populations due to Hurricanes and Other
Disasters, GAO/GAO-06-790T, May 18, 2006, p. 4.
Appendix: Statutory Authority for Evacuations
Table 1 lists examples of evacuation-related statutes. Although the provisions
address many issues, two prevalent themes are (1) integrating federal, state, and local
evacuation efforts; and (2) addressing equity issues that may arise as a result of an
Table 1. Selected Federal Evacuation Authorities41
General Federal Evacuation Policy
Summary Ci tation Approved
Federal employees and their5 U.S.C. §§ 5709, 5725 July 4, 1966
dependents may receive federal
assistance if they must evacuate.
The need for a mass evacuation may6 U.S.C. § 701(4) Oct. 4, 2006
meet the criteria of a catastrophic
The role of the Federal Emergency6 U.S.C. § 314 Nov. 25, 2002
Management Agency (FEMA) includes
evacuating disaster victims.
Summary Ci tation Approved
Emergency preparedness activities42 U.S.C. 5195a May 22, 1974
include non-military civilian evacuation
of personnel during hazards.
National Construction Safety Teams15 U.S.C. 7301, 7307-Oct., 01, 2002
(NCSTs) must evaluate technical7308
aspects of evacuation procedures and
Emergency plans completed by local42 U.S.C. 11003 Oct. 17, 1986
emergency planning committees
(LEPCs) must include evacuation
Owners of facilities where a hazardous42 U.S.C. 11004(b)(2) Oct. 17, 1986
chemical release occurs must provide
information on precautions to be taken,
41 A recent statutory search of the Legislative Information System (LIS) system using the
term “evacuations” revealed roughly 1,700 statutory provisions concerning some component
of evacuation. Bonnie Mangan, Information Research Specialist in the CRS Domestic
Social Policy Division, assisted with the compilation of this list.
Summary Ci tation Approved
The Secretary of Transportation must46 U.S.C. 70104(b) Nov. 25, 2002
establish incident response plans for
facilities and vessels that include
Congressional finding that private andP.L. 108-458, § 7305, 118Dec. 17, 2004
public sector emergency preparednessStat. 3848
activities should include evacuation
The Director for Emergency426 U.S.C. § 721 Oct. 4, 2006
Communications shall provide
technical assistance to states and
localities to develop evacuation plans.
Amends the Stafford Act to ensure that42 U.S.C. § 5170bOct., 4, 2006
state and local emergency preparedness(a)(3)(J)
operational plans address the needs of
individuals with household pets and
service animals following a major
disaster or emergency.
Summary Ci tation Approved
All public transportation agencies that6 U.S.C. § 1134Aug., 3, 2007
are deemed to be at high risk of a(c)(2)(C)
terrorist attack, as determined by the
DHS Secretary, must include
appropriate evacuation and
communication measures for the
elderly and individuals with
FEMA is responsible for supporting6 U.S.C. § 753Oct. 4, 2006
state, local, and tribal governments in(b)(4)(A)(I) (ii)(iii)
creating operational plans for mass
evacuations that include short- and
long-term sheltering and
accommodation. Operational plans
must also contain provisions to help
populations with special needs, keep
families together, and expedite the
location of missing children.
42 Within FEMA’s Office of Emergency Communications.
Summary Ci tation Approved
The disability coordinator of a major6 U.S.C. § 321b(b)(6) Oct. 4, 2006
disaster is responsible for promoting
the accessibility of telephone hotlines
and websites for the purposes of
emergency preparedness, evacuations,
and disaster relief.
FEMA is authorized to provide grants6 U.S.C. § 321a(a)(1) andOct. 4, 2006
to states and localities through the State(b)(4)
Homeland Security Grant Program, or
the Urban Area Security Initiative, for
the development and maintenance of
mass evacuation plans, including
provisions for individuals located in
hospitals, nursing homes, and other
institutional living facilities.
FEMA is authorized to provide grants6 U.S.C. § 321aOct. 4, 2006
for states and localities to develop(b)(5)(a)(b)(c)
procedures for informing the public of
an evacuation, which include
individuals with disabilities or other
special needs, individuals with limited
English proficiency, or others who
might have difficulty interpreting