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How innovative leaders are leveraging RFID in public-private partnerships to improve the hurricane evacuation process and provide real-time business intelligence not just to government agencies, but to friends and loved ones as well
by David C. Wyld, Southeastern Louisiana University
ne of the most overused management axioms in all organizations is that people are our most important asset. However, over the course of the past few years, this statement has been put to the absolute test for state and local government ofﬁcials throughout the Gulf Coast region of the United States. A litany of previously innocent names ‒ Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike ‒ are now indelibly burned into our collective
Global Identiﬁcation - March 2009
memories as the monikers of killer hurricanes that have impacted all across the Gulf Coast. Each has been devastating, exacting billions in property damage and a horrible loss of life.
Hurricane Katrina In late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina became the real-world test for many years of emergency preparedness planning efforts. An estimated one million people evac-
uated the southeastern part of Louisiana in anticipation of Katrina s landfall. However, approximately 25,000 residents of the city did not evacuate. Many chose to stay to protect their homes and personal property, while others simply were unable to leave due to their immobility, a lack of transportation, or just their belief that in the end, they would be all right. In fact, many stayed due to the fact that in the years leading-up to Katrina, mandatory evacuations had
Out of every tragedy however does come good, and in this case, lessons were learned. They were learned by individuals all along the Gulf Coast, who had witnessed the devastation both ﬁrst-hand and through 24/7 news coverage of the event. So, when Hurricane Rita threatened just a month later, an estimated 2.7 Texas and Louisiana residents evacuated, making this the largest migration of individuals to date in American history. The 2005 hurricanes also served as all too real wake-up calls for emergency planners as to the need for better planning and execution of evacuations of whole regions of states and major cities within them. Ozlem Ergun, who is the co-Director of the Research Center for Humanitarian Logistics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, recently commented that: Evacuation planning is very complicated. Given how bad the 2005 hurricane season process was, it is evident that there
is a big need for this to be done in a systematic way.
Evacuation planning Proper evacuation planning can help save thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet, the un-
sistance in such a scenario. As has been seen in the recent hurricanes, hundreds of thousands of individuals and families will elect to evacuate on their own, using their private cars and other forms of transportation to travel outside the cone of uncertainty for an approaching
The unpredictable nature of any storm makes effective evacuationrelated decision making difﬁcult predictable nature of any storm also makes effective decision making difﬁcult. In fact, as shown in the ﬁgure on the next page, there is what might be referred to as a lifecycle to potential disasters, as there are distinct stages to any potential disaster potentially requiring a mass evacuation for emergency managers and public ofﬁcials to go through. In the hurricane scenario, emergency planners have to work with forecast tracks and models to make their all-important calls on when and what areas to evacuate, fully cognizant that their decisions, made in the isolation of an emergency operations center, have very real-world costs and consequences for hundreds of thousands ‒ even millions ‒ of citizens. As Chief Jack Colley, Chief of the Texas Governor s Division of Emergency Management (GDEM) recently observed, We live in a 72 hour world, from decision to evacuation. Further, there is always the uncertainty as to exactly who will need as-
storm, bearing the cost ‒ and responsibility ‒ for their own transport and shelter in a safe location. After the storm passes, they also can make their own decision as to when to come home to the affected region ‒ subject to the opening-up of the area by their state and local ofﬁcials. However, in cities such as Houston and New Orleans, many thousands of individuals will need government assistance to evacuate the danger zone, to be sheltered in a safe area, and then be transported back to the affected area when it is declared safe. Many will need special assistance due to their medical condi-
Proper evacuation planning can help save thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars
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been ordered for Hurricanes Georges (1998) and Floyd (1999), both of which fortunately passed east of their forecasted paths, causing little to no damage to the New Orleans area itself. Yet, Katrina did closely follow its projected path, striking just to the east of New Orleans. As we now know, for all too many of these individuals, Hurricane Katrina produced tragic results. In the end, an estimated 1,600 to 1,800 lives were lost from the storm in New Orleans alone.
tions, their age and even their present status (prisoners, hospital patients, the elderly and inﬁrm, and nursing
an evacuation management system for the State of Texas. The solution, the Texas Special Needs Evacuation
In some cities, many thousands of individuals will need government assistance to evacuate the danger zone home residents all require evacuation and sheltering), furthering complicating the evacuation management task and the costs involved in the operation.
Business intelligence in emergency evacuation processes
The disaster management lifecycle
Today, both the State of Texas and the City of New Orleans have new emergency evacuation processes in place. These new systems, both developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, emphasize the need for business intelligence throughout the disaster management lifecycle. As Dr. Gordon Wells, Program Manager at the Center for Space Research at the University of Texas at Austin which manages the data for the Texas program - recently observed that: The scale of mass evacuation demands a new approach to command control and the creation of a system that registers evacuees in real-time at their departure points. In 2006, Texas Governor Rick Perry charged the Governor s Division of Emergency Management (GDEM) to create
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Tracking System (SNETS), was tested in simulations and then activated in anticipation of Hurricane Dean in 2007, a storm that threatened the state s coastline, but turned toward Mexico before any call for evacuations was made. However, in 2008, the system was utilized for the ﬁrst time for both Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, monitoring the evacuation of over 30,000 Texas residents from the storms. SNETS involves several private sector partners, including: Motorola, Radiant RFID, Alien Technology and AT&T Wireless. SNETS works in the following manner. Once an evacuation ordered is issued by the governor, Texas residents desiring state-assistance in the process are directed to meet at pre-determined embarkation centers. Adults and children will then be outﬁtted with RFID-enabled wristbands and they will be scanned and have their essential personal data entered into the system. As they board and then exit buses equipped with GPS tracking systems, evacuees will pass through portable RFID portals. Buses will take them ﬁrst to what are known
as central evacuation hubs, where they will either be sheltered or ushered onto another bus for a trip to their ﬁnal destination point, based on the space available at potential shelter locations and the projected path of the storm. With the integration of RFID at the points of departure and reception, the SNETS system will be able to know who is where throughout the evacuation process, with a capacity of taking-in 12,000 people per hour into the system.
New Orleans City Assisted Evacuation Plan The City of New Orleans has developed a similar RFIDbased evacuation system. In the spring of 2006, the city initiated the City Assisted Evacuation Plan (CAEP). The main objectives of the CAEP were now to safely evacuate all residents out of New Orleans before the winds from a hurricane reached the tropical storm-force level and to keep family units together throughout the entire evacuation process. The City of New Orleans selected Unisys as the primary contractor for the project. New Orleans has encouraged its residents to preregister for their potential evacuation needs by calling the city s 31-1 Public Information Emergency Hotline, providing their personal data and information about the special needs they might have due to their age and/or medical conditions. This affords emergency planning staff
‒ and their pets ‒ to begin the recovery and repopulation phase as they return back to the affected area after the storm has passed, once it is safe to do so.
The New Orleans system is designed where all family members are registered in the system around a headof-household concept, including the family s pets. The idea is to create a human manifest within the Evacuation Tracking System (ETS) ‒ the database at the heart of the system ‒ one that tracks evacuees as they are moved away from the area and housed in shelters. In fact, one of the important lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina was that many people refused to evacuate New Orleans due to the fact that at that time, they would have had to leave their pets behind. Under both New Orleans CAEP and Texas SNETS, residents bring their dogs or cats with them to the evacuation center. The pets are then placed in carriers that bear RFID tags (New Orleans) or given an RFID-enabled dog or cat collar (Texas), so that they too can be tracked as they are moved to specially-designated pet shelters. Now, with the new systems in place, family members and those concerned about their safety can quickly locate each other if they are separated in the evacuation process and quickly know that their loved ones, including their pets, are safe. They can also reunite with each other
Analysis Who will beneﬁt from the investment in these new systems? Certainly, the stakeholders include not just government personnel, from emergency planners to law enforcement to ﬁrst responders, but evacuees and their families as well. Using business intelligence concepts, the entire process can be much more effectively managed, producing a more orderly and comfortable experience for evacuees. At the same time, the evacuation, sheltering, and repopulation process can be conducted with real-time intelligence, beneﬁtting all parties. Texas Jack Colley commented on the value of such real-time intelligence, stating that with such systems, we control the event, the event does not control us. Chris Hill, who is Vice President for Government Solutions for AT&T Wireless
Once an evacuation order is issued, residents desiring state-assistance can directed to meet at pre-determined embarkation centers where they are equipped with RFID wristbands
An efﬁcient evacuation system effectively tracks each evacuee s location while reducing the need to conduct extensive search-and-rescue missions that risk lives
photo by Coast Guard News
in a 24-hour period, and it is scalable to handle more people in the need with the addition of not just more technology, but more volunteer staff at the evacuation centers and shelters.
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to anticipate the number and health status of the individuals who will need cityassisted evacuation services in the event of a call for a mandatory evacuation. New Orleans s CAEP is designed to be activated 54 hours prior to the point at which the hurricane forecasters believe tropical force winds would reach the city. At that juncture, the mayor would call for a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. The City s EOC (Emergency Operation Center) then would deploy buses throughout the city to pickup preregistered evacuees at their predetermined pickup stops. Buses would also be sent to other locations, to be announced in the media, for those residents who had not preregistered with the 3-1-1 system. Before boarding the buses at the pickup locations, medical technicians will conduct a quick medical assessment of each evacuee. The buses then take evacuees to an evacuation center, where they would receive an RFID-encoded wristband and be ofﬁcially entered into the Evacuation Tracking System (ETS). From the evacuation centers, evacuees will be directed to state-provided buses, trains, and possibly planes. The evacuees destinations will be shelters operated by the State of Louisiana in the central and northern regions of the state, far enough from New Orleans to house the evacuees in a far-safer location than in their home city. The CAEP is designed to handle a volume of 20,000 evacuees
‒ a major partner in the new Texas system, recently commented that: State and local agencies will beneﬁt from collaborative solutions such as this one, because they will provide citizens with an
such systems widely available across the country is, of course, the current economic conditions. Faced with declining tax revenues and budget shortfalls, state and local governments are
Using business intelligence concepts, the entire evacuation process can be much more effectively managed
With RFID, the evacuation, sheltering, and repopulation process can be conducted with real-time intelligence,
photo by jpeepz
beneﬁtting all parties involved
efﬁcient evacuation system that effectively tracks each evacuee s location while reducing the need to conduct extensive search-and-rescue missions that risk lives. In like fashion, Kenneth Rattan, cofounder of Austin, Texas-based Radiant RFID, a major partner in the Texas system, remarked on the value of such systems to evacuees and their families: Not all people think about, or have the capacity to call, their next of kin to let them know where they are going during an evacuation. During Hurricane Rita, it sometimes took relatives weeks to ﬁnd evacuated people. In Gustav, it took minutes or seconds to ﬁnd people who were being tracked with the new system. While states and even other large cities/counties all along the coastal regions of the United States are certainly looking at the systems already deployed and proven successful in Texas and Louisiana as working models of what they themselves need for their own evacuation plans, the principal challenge to making
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being forced to cut-back not just on IT spending, but on what have heretofore been essential services and programs. Thus, the essentialness of such projects could be lessened in the wake of what are perceived to be more immediately pressing needs. Also, as such systems are deployed by various states and municipal governments, one must point out the obvious need for some standardization of protocols and interoperability between the systems. As has been shown in these mass evacuation events in recent years, people are often moved through perhaps several states before reaching their ﬁnal sheltering destination ‒ often using multiple modes of transportation and being housed by multiple public and private entities. Thus, whether through cooperation between these various agencies or perhaps or through the creation of a single federal system/database that could be used on demand by any government agency, the need for such systems to not become
information silos, but rather, to be interoperable - with seamless integration to provide the real-time peoplebusiness intelligence that is needed in such fast-moving emergency situations ‒ will need to be addressed in the very near future. And on a ﬁnal note, as many emergency management experts have pointed out, today, we are focused on the need for mass evacuation due to hurricane dangers along the Southern and Eastern Coasts of the United States. However, the need for plans for mass evacuation of populated regions extends nationwide ‒ even globally. With very real threats from natural disasters (such as earthquakes, wildﬁres, and ﬂoods) and the continuing potential for biological and nuclear terror attacks, every major city and all 50 states need to have not just mass evacuation planning in place, but the real-time intelligence systems to monitor, track and provide essential information to public ofﬁcials and family members as well. As has been proven by the recent spate of severe hurricanes actually striking the Texas and Louisiana coasts, people really are our most important asset. Thus, the marketplace for solutions providers in this area should prove promising over the next decade, as in an increasingly dangerous world, the need for real-time intelligence to effectively manage the four stages of a disaster management lifecycle will not soon abate.