Walk, don't drive,
State officials reveal
details if disaster hits
If a major disaster hits the Twin Cities, people should walk, not
drive, to the nearest safe zone, according to the official
evacuation plan developed by state officials.
For the first time Wednesday, two of the key people who worked on
the plan talked about it publicly even though it was completed in
late December. The disasters they envisioned were all man-made,
ranging from an airborne anthrax release to a chlorine tank rupture,
said Daryl Taavola, who works for a transportation engineering
company, URS Corp., and was hired to work with the Minnesota
Department of Transportation on the evacuation plans.
The Minnesota Army National Guard's 55th Civil Support Team
recommended that only people within a one-mile radius of the
disaster be evacuated, he said.
"We would encourage people to walk to pickup points in safe
zones,'' Taavola told an audience at the Intelligent Transportation
Systems meeting in Minneapolis. "We will get you out of harm's way,
but we can't guarantee we will get you home right away.''
Instead, people would be transported by Metro Transit or school
buses from the pickup points to large gathering areas, such as the
Minnesota State Fairgrounds, where they could get water, use
bathroom facilities and call their loved ones, he said.
University of Minnesota professor Shashi Shekhar ran computer
models of evacuation routes and found that because of the time
people took to get to their cars and then the traffic jams created,
leaving the car behind was the best option.
"For a one-mile evacuation, almost always the pedestrian is
faster than the vehicle,'' he said.
They even considered locking down the parking ramps so people
could not leave by car but decided against it because of liability
issues, Taavola said. The other problem with cars is that a family
of four with four drivers will have each one jump into a family car
and head out as a caravan because the cars "are such a big
investment,'' said Scott Alley, who saw that problem firsthand as a
Texas Department of Transportation official during the Hurricane
Rita evacuation. That many cars clog the roads even quicker, he
Because walking rather than driving contradicts the natural
instincts of most people, there will have to be public education
before a disaster, Taavola said.
The evacuation plan "is a big thing, multi-agency, with lots of
moving parts, and we will get that out at some point,'' said
transportation department spokesman Kevin Gutknecht. He did not know
when that public education would begin.
The transportation department spearheaded the Twin Cities
metropolitan area evacuation plan in January 2004. At first, they
and dozens of other state and local agencies looked at 15 sites in
the Twin Cities where a disaster was likely to occur. They
eventually narrowed it to downtowns St. Paul and Minneapolis, the
University of Minnesota, Mall of America and one of the oil
refineries south of St. Paul, Taavola and Shekhar said.
Under the plan, transportation department trucks or police cars
would be parked across a street lane or a freeway ramp to prevent
people from driving toward the disaster, and force them to make only
right turns, Taavola said. Minnesota State Patrol troopers would
secure the routes to the hospitals so ambulances could move freely,
Assuming electrical systems are working, the electronic
signboards on the freeways would flash evacuation messages. The
traffic and jazz radio station, KBEM-FM, would switch to providing
emergency information, and the news media would be informed,
although Taavola admitted there was still "lots of outreach to be
They also decided against contraflowing, which is making all
lanes of the freeway go the same direction as they do in hurricane
evacuations, Taavola said. More planning needs to be done, he added,
including how to reach non-English speaking people in the disaster
zone and working with building managers on what to tell tenants if
there is a need to evacuate, he said.
Charles Laszewski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org