Saturday, October 01, 2005

Where Do We Go From Here?

Can we evacuate a city before the next natural disaster or after the next terrorist attack? In particular, are we prepared to evacuate Washington, DC?

Recent experience would suggest not. New Orleans had -- ahem -- inadequate plans to evacuate the poor. Houston apparently failed to reverse the flow on in-bound highways, resulting in record-breaking traffic jams. Yet DC could be even worse.

What DC lacks in hurricane or earthquake risks, it more than makes up for in potential terrorist targets. Fortunately, an orderly evacuation is practically guaranteed. After all, evacuation routes have been identified for DC. "People north of Pennsylvania Avenue will be directed to take north, east and westbound evacuation routes. People south of Pennsylvania Avenue will be directed toward south, east and westbound evacuation routes. No one will be allowed to cross Pennsylvania Avenue during an emergency evacuation." Hopefully, your home and loved ones will be on the same side of the line as you are in the event of an evacuation.

Local evacuation planning, of necessity, must rely on careful cooperation between state and federal officials. (See the next post for a glimpse of how that is working.) This is particularly true of the nation's capital. Also, there should be little doubt that local public officials and local media deserve much of the blame that almost no one has any idea of what to do in the event of an emergency -- other than run like hell.

So if the cops are out in force directing traffic, and everyone keeps their gas tank topped off "just in case," a simple evacuation might be feasible. Those without access to a vehicle can just hunker down.

But an evacuation is extremely unlikely to go smoothly if terrorists use CBRN next time. That's government shorthand for attacks utilizing chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons: The Four Horsemen of the terrorist apocalypse. Getting too much sleep lately? Try reading more about what you should be worried about, such as here or here (large pdf file).

And have a nice day.

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