Logistics for Houston residents – should evacuate, or stay, have been the strategy ?

An article in CNN.com (http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/27/us/houston-evacuation-hurricane-harvey/index.html) describes the decision made by the Mayor of Houston to request that the 6.5 million residents stay in their houses during Hurricane Harvey’s touchdown, rather than evacuate, and be potentially stuck on roads due to congestion. After touchdown, displaced residents are being directed to “lilypads” – centralized locations they can get help. But several are stuck in their homes due to the massive flooding of the city.  Is staying put during a hurricane the best strategy, or should people have been asked to come to distributed locations for help, or evacuate early ? Should coordination of the evacuation have been planned to reduce congestion, with approved destinations outside the city ?  Was the decision the result of inconsistent planning or calculated risk ?

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50 Responses to Logistics for Houston residents – should evacuate, or stay, have been the strategy ?

  1. Murilo Siqueira says:

    It is really hard to contain crisis, especially those related to entire cities. Since we can predict Hurricanes, but it is really hard to predict touchdowns, creating a early evacuation plan would just induce chaos and scare the population with uncertain data.
    The tragedy of having people stuck in traffic and being hit by a Hurricane would be much worse than to ask them to find shelter in their on home/surroundings.
    I don’t think any city is prepared to evacuate 6.5M people at once, using mainly its highways. One possible alternative would be to evacuate those people who would be definitely on the Hurricane route, which would be a much smaller number, or transfer them to close and safe locations.
    Media should also be contained not to scare the population, but instead, try to help keep the evacuation under control.

  2. subhash katragadda says:

    I agree with Murilo’s point that its hard to contain the crisis of such magnitude and considering the capacity of infrastructure an early evacuation effort would have been more chaotic, weighing all these factors Houston’s Mayor would have taken the calculated risk of asking people to stay back in their homes. In my opinion this is a poorly calculated risk, City could have used its database to identity low lying areas and federal flood hazard zone and should have moved the people in these areas to ‘lilypads’ prior to touchdown, this also would have reduced workload on rescue workers.

  3. Michael Minor says:

    I really understand the decision-making process during Hurricane Harvey, my daughter attends college at the University of Houston and lives next door to my father. Both had the money to uproot for the duration of the storm without any consequences but decided to stay because they didn’t want to travel because of congested roads and airports. To the question is what’s the best strategy, it just depends. You have people taking the bus to grocery shop and work on a typical day, so it’s a big ask for them to meet at a specific location for evacuation when city transportation isn’t working, this puts the burden on the city to evacuate its citizens going door to door if removal is mandated. A contingency planning for a mass evacuation incorporating moving and housing the population of a major city would be a project managers nightmare and only would work with a blank check from the government even if the operation was phased. The mayor and the citizens of Houston took a calculated risk by staying, some out of for economic reasons other pure faith they would survive the storm.

  4. Freddy Horn says:

    I agree with what has been said. Evacuating such a large city would lead to chaos. Similarly, bringing back the people after the hurricane will have the same results again. Another negative side effect: Abandoned neighborhoods and districts will also attract robbers and increase the burden for the already challenged emergency personnel.

  5. Julia Eldridge says:

    Ideally the city could think of the evacuation as a system and determine a flow that would keep people moving through the bottlenecks and figure out a way to prevent a huge stack of inventory accruing (e.g. displaced people being stuck). However to create such a plan would not only take a large deal of effort and money, it would need to be continually updated and reviewed as a preventative measure for disaster. It may be infeasible to always have a well managed plan in place and attempting to develop one as imminent threat approaches will likely not allow for thorough assessment of the flow.

    Furthermore, the element of human health and safety means the reaction to the disaster is critical. As such attempting to batch people and not release them (allow them to evacuate) can be a life or death matter and is not as simple as just holding some back to optimize throughput.

    The mayor’s response does show a lack of planning in the sense that a comprehensive flow plan was not available, however given the human free will and ability to make choices, no flow plan for evacuation could truly be executed as conceived. As such the decision to create “lily pads” and call for people to stay put is definitely calculated risk and potentially the most feasible response to the situation.

  6. Marcya Carter-Sheats says:

    This is a difficult question to answer. I understand the rationale for having citizens stay put as there is increased danger to lives if traffic is so congested that they cannot evacuate enough prior to the storms arrival. The goal is to always minimize risk and when they do the lessons learned, there will always be reasons to justify or question either decision. The goal is always to minimize risk and impact to life. Ideally, you look at the path of the storm and determine where the greatest risk lie. The models will never be perfect and there will always be emotions when determining what’s right or wrong. The lily pads were a strategic decision and one that people will question. There are still areas that will be slow to recover after the storm. With that, there is increased risk to health and safety. If you do not have a pre and post hurricane strategy, you run the risk for long-term catastrophic harm.

  7. Huili says:

    I agree with the others that mass evacuation of 6.5M people within 6 hours is impossible. That takes planning for which there wasn’t time.
    Evacuate early is only possible for people who are mobile and have the means to leave quickly. The elderly and the sick are difficult to move. It would require special equipment or transportation (bottlenecks). To find a distributed location that is near to the home, should be possible, provided there is such a distributed location. These designated locations should be part of a disaster plan of the city. The distributed locations would act as inventory from which the people can easily be evacuated.

    Considering the speed that hurricane Harvey was approaching and the lack of time to communicate any evacuation plan effectively the best decision the mayor could have taken is indeed for everybody to stay where they are. If 6.5M people are evacuating in this short notice there is a big probability that it would be chaotic. Then it would be impossible to keep track of where everybody is. The mayor strategy to keep the people put where they are at least makes it possible comparatively easy to check what the situation is once hurricane Harvey left. Then the authorities will know better where are all the people and what needs to be done.

  8. Kim Coldiron says:

    I concur with the majority of the comments on this topic. Julia did a great job of tying the evacuation plan into our reading on the operational model of throughout and bottlenecks. Utimately, as contraversial as it may be, this decision comes down to mitigating the loss of life. Either scenario will likely result in some level of injury, illness and even death. At that point, there was no evacuation plan or strategy that would “successfully” evacuate a city of that size in that amount of time. Evacuation would have put many more lives at risk and in danger, likely without the city’s ability to reach or manage the majority of them. Given the lack of time to prepare and the reality of the unknowns, I believe the safety of home was indeed the best option for Houston citizens. At a minimum, people were more likely to have access to shelter, food, water, first aid and many other comforts that could potentially sustain them for a period of time. Unless there was time to properly stock supplies and find resources to manage that number of citizens in centralized locations, people would be much better off at home or with family and friends to help one another. This allowed the city to prepare the lilypad locations to support those who actually needed it rather than prevent those that needed support from access, due being overrun by those who could have been safely in their homes. As for the sick and elderly, I believe they would have been more likely to find help from those nearby as people prepared to be stuck at home for a while, than in an evacuation situation. I believe this was a calculated risk for the city of Houston and the best option under the circumstances.

  9. Sarah Rosnick says:

    I struggle with this conversation a little more than the average student, partially because I’ve worked with FEMA on several occasions and been part of crisis management operations. Part of the burden of city leadership for cities that are along the ocean is to plan and manage a variety of difficult situations like this. In order to manage these scenarios, organizations run simulations on how they would manage a crisis up to and including this kind of magnitude. If whoever the crisis management team was didn’t plan a “better safe than sorry” option, they’re probably not mean for this kind of planning as a profession.
    Candidly, the roads weren’t managed to funnel people out of the city effectively. Every single major highway should have been turned into an exit route for people moving out of the city. Special circumstances could have been made for the few who needed to go back and rescue their families, etc. Ultimately, in crisis management planning, it’s unacceptable to plan for a scenario that doesn’t capture the worst of the possibilities. I completely agree with Kim’s comment about mitigating the loss of life (and limb and eyesight.) I don’t agree, however, that evacuation would have put several more people in danger.

  10. Jordan McCroskey says:

    I agree that there are downsides to evacuating and I think Julia made a great point tying bottlenecks into her comments. Sarah also brings up an excellent point about the need to turn all available roads into exit routes.

    It’s certainly easier to judge via hindsight the decisions made during crisis. I agree that poor infrastructure and a fast moving hurricane made the concept of evacuating 6.5 million people next to impossible. Perhaps rather than recommending residents stay home only, the concept of lilypads could have been used to provide local evacuating points better built to withstand hurricanes. Schools, worship centers, and other community buildings could have been used to provide shelters for those who’s homes were highly flood prone (low elevation) or if the residents needed attention during the emergency.

    When it comes to lives – calculated risk is more than just a number.

  11. bairdjb says:

    Reading the comments of my cohorts I greatly appreciate everyone’s perspective. I theoretically agree with Julia and Kim and tying this situation to a bottleneck discussion. However, I disagree with the arguments around the financial cost of evacuating individuals stranded as they try to exit the city. With poor planning, people are going to be stranded somewhere and there is going to be a cost to evacuate them.
    I think Jordan said it best “When it comes to lives – calculated risk is more than just a number”. Hence the reason I ultimately agree with Sarah’s candid evaluation of the emergency preparedness of the City of Houston.

  12. Andres Rueda says:

    There is a mixture of things around the situation before the arrival of the hurricane ranging from unclear instructions, lack of clarity about where the evacuation order should proceed or set 6 hours as the reaction time that faced the possible disaster .
    My perception is that there was a lack of planning considering that the forecast of the passage of the hurricane through Houston was known in advance. By August 25 there was already information that Harvey would arrive in Texas with at least grade 3 and had recommended the evacuation of Corpus Christi.
    The evacuation should have taken place. Knowing the alert about the intensity of the rains and the level of the floods, it would have been possible to determine the most vulnerable areas to be evacuated and establish a plan of action identifying the critical points to carry out the displacement of the families towards the established places or those recommended by the city administration, with the appropriate logistics to minimize congestion and thus begin to mobilize. There was no calculated risk and that shows that several days passed before many people could receive help. The magnitude of natural disasters reaches the point of being incalculable and in this case the lives of people were endangered despite having the information.

  13. Jennifer Greminger says:

    Moments of crises are incredibly difficult to manage even before the human factor enters the picture. If every storm were the same, then a “prescription” could be written, but each storm brings an incredible unique set of circumstances, and a new set of human behaviors. One of the responses above notes that their family members had the means to evacuate – but that is just one family’s circumstances. There are hundreds/thousands of unique circumstances that get laid on top of the conditions of the crisis. I’m not suggesting that nothing be done, but to think a set of rules can be written “in the moment” and followed with overwhelming compliance seems lofty. However, educating repeatedly, regularly, frequently, when there isn’t a storm is as critical as trying to reach millions when a storm surge is within hours. In the ‘off season’ are they running public service messages around purchasing a generator, knowing your evacuation route, understanding what you would need to take to be gone for 1 week, 6 weeks, 2 months…..and if you must stay, basic survival skills.

  14. Paul Aoun says:

    Since they had only “6 hours’ notice”, it is almost impossible to evacuate 6.5M people given the available highways capacity out of the city. Highways are usually designed with a certain capacity to handle the traffic demand, at a given level of utilization, both of which are stretched to the extreme during rush hour traffic. Therefore, if everyone was on the road at the same time, gridlock is certainly going to develop and flow will be completely halted. In addition, there is the probability factor they had to take into consideration and the uncertainty of what areas would be flooded.
    Obviously, what happened showed the gaps in their risks management processes, and they should review and improve based on the lessons learned, at great personal and material cost to the people living in Houston.

  15. Mike Carter says:

    Evacuating 6.5 million people within such a small amount of time would be nearly impossible. I’m sure the roads and highway infrastructure would not be able to contain the amount of traffic and the roads would become complete gridlock. I believe the governor was aware of this and thought the risk of having all of those people stranded on the highway in their cars posed more risk to lives than staying at home where you could potentially go to the attack or climb on the roof. The city of Houston should review their episode plan to develop new strategies for short-notice evacuations. Based on this review, new evacuation routes may be created as well as increased highway driving lanes or flood mitigation infrastructure development.

  16. Jason Anderson says:

    A voluntary evacuation would have probably made the most since looking back. The problem lies in the decisions of the general public as to if they want to “voluntarily” loose everything or just stay put and weather the storm.The ambiguous direction provided by the mayor to the general public did not help matters. A coordinated evacuation plan might have helped, a real evacuation plan didn’t appear to exist. Just as others have said 6.5 million people relocated in 6 hours is on the scale of impossible.

  17. Ken Janicke says:

    Both options, staying put or evacuating, introduce risk. Having a well thought out strategy for dealing with natural disasters should help in reducing those risks. Early informed communication with the citizens about the anticipated severity of the storm and flooding, coupled with an option of voluntary evacuation thru state ran distribution channels may have been a better option. This would allow those feeling confident and secure in their location and preparations to remain put, while relieving some of the congestion for those less prepared and opting to participate in the voluntary partial evacuation.
    Obviously, coordination of any evacuation activities should be carefully planned, and include both routes and destinations. Reducing traffic congestion, citizen decision stresses, and destination overloads are all factors that should be considered in any such planning.
    It appears that lack of communication and coordination between various city, county, and state officials led to decision confusion. Each personality at each level apparently had their own estimates or opinions about the coming storm, its possible implications, and acceptable risk levels. The decision making should have included the citizenry as they were most effected.

  18. Ruth Stone says:

    Making the decision of whether or not to stay put during a hurricane involves so many factors that each situation requires its own analysis by officials. It’s impossible to give a consistent yes or no answer to the value of evacuation for all hurricanes. Specifically, to Houston during Harvey and based on this article, it appears that there were not clear indications about where Harvey would touchdown or where the most rain would fall. Without that information, City officials did not know who to evacuate or to where.

    In general, yes, the city of Houston should have a plan available to evacuate the city in case of emergency. It was not clear if a plan existed or not. It is clear that an evacuation was not called, and therefore, an evacuation plan was not implemented. The article did state that high-water rescue vehicles were “strategically positioned to help evacuate people if needed” and churches were available for those in need.

    The decision not to evacuate was a result of calculated risk based on these facts:
    – No one could define the amount of rain that would fall or where it was going to fall.
    – The evacuation disaster after Hurricane Rita proved that evacuation has its own set of risks.

  19. Peter Rigakos says:

    I believe the best strategy is such a case is to choose the option with the least amount of risk to human life. If we look at this case, they had to move 6.5 million people with six (6) hours notice. I am sure we can come the agreement that this demand on the infrastructure would not work, and the people would have less shelter in their cars, that at home.
    Planning such an evacuation may have been possible with the right plan and evacuating certain areas first, however, such a plan may have taken weeks to prepare along with extreme communication to each area of the city. Once again, the six hour time frame is not enough time to prepare.
    It seems as though Houston is not familiar with such weather and therefore not a prepared as they wanted to be. Also, the weather reports were changing and were not consistent. Once it was determined to be a hurricane and the time was limited and therefore I believe this decision was a calculated risk.

  20. Rolando Saca says:

    I think the strategy has to always be minimizing risk. I believe it’s very arcaic, or naive even, to think you can either evacuate that vast amount of people or none at all. The city of Houston needed to have a dynamic plan that, depending on the geographical location of the catastrophe and analyzing demographics, an active plan should have been taken into place that efforts and resources should have been focused profoundly in evacuating critical areas. Then, educating citizens on what to do and what signs to look for in order to act (whether to evacuate or not) is always helpful in areas that were hit but not critical (obligatory evacuation) for citizens to analyze and take the decision to voluntary evacuate or not.

  21. Sara Moscato Howe says:

    In this situation, it is easy to play Monday AM quarterback. There are many factors to consider, as everyone above has pointed out. When you compare the situation in Houston to Florida a few weeks later, there was much more time (if I recall correctly about a week) to prepare and recommend evacuation. As a result, many in FL did evacuate and we heard of much less loss of life in the Keys and other Florida towns.
    Taking a step back and looking at island such as Puerto Rico, where evacuation involves air travel, and the community infrastructure is more fragile, I can see how even more time to prepare is not enough. In the case of Houston, I think they did the best with the information they had available. Was it ideal? Likely not. But policy makers have to make very quick decisions and the goal is to minimize loss of life and injury. As weather prediction gets better, hopefully these situations will serve as a guide for future decisions that minimize human (and animal) impact.

  22. srinivas tadepalli says:

    I agree with a lot of the comments above. Evacuating 6.5M people within 6 hours is practically a very challenging task. there is no point in discussing what could have been done due to the fact that its already past. We can definitely learn form those experiences and god forbid a similar city such as Houston is in a similar situation, how better can we react is the task at hand. I Believe we can benefit a lot from the technology and innovation happening around us. A smart and connected world that Tom cruise lived in minority report (15 years ago) is not a fantasy anymore. A lot of that is possible today which can aid in better city and disaster planning. Please check this link out. i am not trying to sell anything here but just a show case of how technology can be used in these circumstances. Our company is working with many cities around the world on a first of a kind project called 3DEXPERIENCE City (https://www.3dexperiencity.com). The idea here is to create a complete digital twin of the entire city and this is where you can use virtual models coupled with simulations to plan for unforeseen emergencies such as this one and plan effective emergency evacuation if needed.

  23. Jayme Richardson says:

    Like everyone else, I think hindsight is always 20/20. However, I think their biggest mistake was not issuing a voluntary evacuation order. Obviously with a lot of unknowns, it would have been difficult to say who and where they should evacuate to, but by advising everyone to stay put, I think they eliminated the possibility for people that were more “at risk” (e.g. elderly, locale, etc.) to seek refuge elsewhere. However, I do think the mayor is completely responsible due to his lack of clarity in his statements. When cornered with what he really meant, he advised everyone to listen to their local authorities, who were likely getting their directives from him. A plan to make a plan is not a plan.

  24. Camilo Rodriguez says:

    On the contrary to most opinions, I believe that under the possibility of danger, evacuation is something that should happen. I believe that it is much safer for people and that the logistics is doable. Being from the insurance sector, I know that, although not exact, there are models that can predict and detect hurricanes as well as give good ranges for their impact and area of influence. I believe that massive education campaigns, as well as scheduled and controlled evacuation can help people be prepared and know what to do.

  25. Wendy Mehringer says:

    The problem in Houston was not in the decision to evacuate, in my opinion. i agree with others; hindsight is 20/20. The issue was twofold: (1) poor disaster planning and (2) ineffective communication strategies. (1) In the video, the mayor commented that crafting an evacuation in just a few days would be impossible. Agreed. Given the flood-risk of the flat Houston area, city engineers could surely determine when evacuation was necessary. If less than 5″, do this. If 5-10″, do that. If 10″+, evacuation must be considered, for instance. The forecasters were calling for 20″ on Thursday. (2) The mayor and governor should have appeared together, to give folks confidence and to ensure a singular message. And, the mayor should have inspired confidence while allowing emergency planners and city engineers to be the mouthpiece for disaster and evacuation specifics. Such would allow the journalists’ questions to garner more granular answers. Also, I’m curious how social media played into city and state officials’ strategies. Speaking to the masses isn’t a function for only TV anymore. Reaching Houstonians is arguably easier in this digital age than in any disaster in history.

  26. Anna Dietrich says:

    Just as much as this scenario could be interpreted as an operations home work problem, it’s also impacted by the assessment of risk, and human behavior.
    I had a similar reaction to Wendy, in that while it’s likely that for any major disaster there will not be sufficient time to prepare, the probability that a disaster will occur at some point is likely close to 1. Therefore, how could cities such as Houston have plans in place so which only a few hours notice, services and emergency crews could be deployed, with some consistent approach to reduce congestion and calm chaos.
    Also to Wendy’s point, the use of social media opens up a new idea. With the ability to quickly access anyone with a cell phone, either through social media or emergency text notification, it is seemingly “easier” to coordinate groups if a mass evacuation could have been planned.
    But even with the best plans and communication strategies, human behavior enters, whether it be the person who doesn’t want to leave their home, or the dare devil that wants to play survival.

  27. Jennie Dekker says:

    I feel that the main issue with the strategy employed was the lack of options given. Whether poor planning or calculated risk – making the decision for each resident that they were to stay put is assuming that the structure they live in is strong enough to withstand the hurricane, that they have ample supplies, and that their risk tolerance accepts the choice. I am a big fan of options and feel that each citizen should have been given the option to stay or evacuate (in a pre-planned manner to avoid congestion). I understand this would require immense pre-planning for which they may not have had the resources, but given then severity of recent storms in the area years prior – there should have been a long-stanind safety plan in place that merely needed updating upon anticipation of the storm.

  28. Ross Ridge says:

    Should hospitals be held responsible for outcomes greater than the national average? Should hospitals be held responsible for implementing state of the art treatment regimens? It is easy to sit at a computer and say yes to both questions. The words “held responsible” are used which gives the impression that the expected answers are absolute. From my perspective, the response cannot be a simple yes or no answer. I admit we expect much from our healthcare institutions and medical professionals. We rely on them to fix us when we are broken and to cure us when we are ill. There is a feeling of betrayal and outrage when the institutions that we trust are negligent in care and may be complicit to needless suffering and loss of life. I also know that in some cases, the problems may manifest itself not in poor care but in the demographics of the population that the institution serves, by the level of training that individuals receive and other factors that may contribute directly or indirectly to the perceived preventable injuries and deaths. Having led organizations where bad things happen, I get irritated when someone who has no experience in an area is quick to criticize others when they don’t know the facts or the situation that may have contributed to the problem.
    I believe that medical institutions and the people running them are not deliberately flaunting rules and regulations. Though there are people out there who should not be in the healthcare field, most medical professionals and administers are compassionate, caring and extremely talented in what they do. Sometimes they make mistakes and other times it is beyond their control. The answer lies in, what do they do to address these issues or concerns? The statistics above indicate that healthcare professionals and institutions are aware of these issues and are taking steps to combat them.
    Regarding the third question, I believe the only folks that can fix these issues are the medical community and sharing their success stories is a start. This is not something that should be mandated. Directing hospitals and medical centers to do this will not solve the problem. The medical community must embrace it and see it as one of many solutions in combatting perceived lapses in care and health protocols.

  29. Beth Hinchee says:

    Making the right call with a large city and major weather event coming is certainly difficult. There was clearly precedent from other hurricanes to see that mass evacuation would bring very real risks. If people died from the evacuation and would have been better off staying put, everyone would have been critical of a perceived overreaction. Like any decision, you must assess potential risks and their likelihood to make the right call…but you can always be wrong. It would have seemed prudent to evacuate the areas deemed to be the highest risk and ensure clarity with everyone else on the steps to take depending on how the situation evolved. However, fear is contagious – and if people started to panic and clogged the roadways there could have been an even more serious situation and greater risk of loss of life. Overall, they made the best decision they could with the information they had at the time. Focus should be on improving ability to predict and model scenarios for better decision making in the future.

  30. Aaron Wheadon says:

    The mayor of Houston took a calculated risk. IF the hurricane touched down, the proper planning on the parts of both the government and the residents is required, to ensure survival of those that may not see help for days (weeks?) due to flooding and other constraints on service and emergency personnel.

    When it comes to trying to anticipate weather and the resultant impact it has on people’s physical property, possessions, economic conditions, and even their very lives, I truly believe that it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. For those that left, they are faced with the very real struggle of trying to find or get to the “lilypad” locations for assistance. People that chose to heed the authorities were left with a similar situation, stuck in their homes. Both faced a potentially life-threatening situation regardless. One avenue that I do see room for improvement in is the upfront planning that takes place. Is it better to remove as many as possible prior to a suspected event? With better planning, the overall loss in life would be mitigated or perhaps eliminated. As soon as some false alarms were experienced however, I believe people would complain, ignore the warnings or mandates to leave, and it would feel as if everything was right back where it started from.

    • Ross Ridge says:

      I concur with Aaron that the key to this situation and similar emergency preparation drills is the pre-work put into not only understanding what needs to be done and how to respond, but also fully understanding the implications of those actions and in some cases, inaction.

  31. Ross Ridge says:

    Is staying put during a hurricane the best strategy, or should people have been asked to come to distributed locations for help, or evacuate early? I admit upfront, that I have some bias in addressing this question. In the past I have deployed to locations like this and am a parent of children who are first responders. My daughter and her search-and-rescue dog were injured responding to Hurricane Ike when it hit Galveston, Texas in 2008. When state and federal authorities recommend evacuation or to seek shelter based on a pending emergency and folks ignore or do not comply, it puts other people’s lives in jeopardy. Having seen the destructive and indiscriminate nature of a hurricane, I do not believe staying put is the best strategy. In fact, I think the mayor’s logic was flawed and put thousands of city residents at increased risk as well as their first responders who were later called in to rescue those stranded. The problem is when do you make this decision. Being a leader is hard. Do you make the decision to evacuate and the hurricane misses your town, and you inconvenienced the residents and in the future they disregard your warnings and stay put. Or are you hailed as an inciteful leader who guessed right and minimized the potential loss of life or injury because you were able to evacuate the residents safely way from harm. These are the tough questions that must be asked during emergency preparation drills in anticipation of these possible events. I am concerned the mayor was more concerned about his reputation and did not want to inconvenience his constituents if the hurricane by-passed the city. He played the odds and lost.

  32. Nicholas Vandal says:

    Is staying put during a hurricane the best strategy, or should people have been asked to come to distributed locations for help, or evacuate early?
    I have no idea what is the best strategy during a hurricane, but I would assume in a place that is prone to flooding and lives next to water (think New Orleans) that I would probably try to leave, or if I was in a place of authority try to get as many people out if the National Weather Service says that they could receive upwards of 30 inches of rain.

    Should coordination of the evacuation have been planned to reduce congestion, with approved destinations outside the city?
    Yes, I believe it should have been. They should have started with the most at risk neighborhoods, ie the lowest and closest to the water, or the neighborhoods that might be the hardest to help later in the event of catastrophe. They also could evacuate the old and young residents. Doing this in a coordinated fashion with predetermined destinations for certain neighborhoods should have drastically helped reduce congestion and panic.

    Was the decision the result of inconsistent planning or calculated risk?
    I think the inconsistent planning for a storm of this magnitude led to them having to take a calculated risk, as it was their only option at that point. Had they planned better they would have had many more options.

  33. Bradley Wensel says:

    I think the mayor should at least put a voluntary evacuation warning out to the community. With no communication to leave at all I think he possibly made the issue worse, but again there was only six-hour notice. Moving a city, the size of Houston out of their homes to safer grounds in six hours is nearly impossible due to the size of population and the size of the overall flood plain. People have to move miles inland to get truly away from the flood area, which to the Mayor point could have ended with mass casualties with people being stuck on the roads versus stuck in their homes. So, for the timing the Mayor had I think his decision was the best it could have been and staying put was the best decision with the limited plan in place. However, I do believe with the inherent risk of flooding to this area there should be more preparation for where people should move too with limited notice and a process of highest risk areas to start that process from initial notice. With no process or preplanning on how a possible evacuation could go with limited notice and a storm of any size it doesn’t prepare the city and its citizens to have the best outcome. Hopefully with this hurricane additional planning and drills have been developed to be better prepared for future storms in the Houston area. Finally, the decision made I believe was a calculated risk at the time and information they had. However, hopefully lessons were learned to save lives with a more defined plan and prevent the mass number of heroic lifesaving events if future events happen.

  34. Christian Kersten says:

    I agree with the overall opinion that is not practicable to move a city with the size of Houston with a regulated evacuation plan.
    A hurricane is a an exceptional situation – and in exceptional situation people do not act rational or stick to their normal behavioral patterns. They act exceptional, in panic and unplanned.
    So in case the Major would have provide a well-structured, detailed evacuation plan, it would not have been worked out, because moving the city would create massive traffic and cars on the road in a dimension, people are not used to. So an additional exceptional situation emerges and people panic and get crazy. This could result in a mass panic or similar situation, jeopardizing a lot of people.
    For improvement I see the possibility of analyzing different groups of risks (e.g. for geography – high/low risk areas) and try to prepare better for the specific needs.
    Up to my mind it was calculated risk due to the catastrophe scenario analysis (evacuation –> massive traffic/lane closures (accidents) –> high risk of chaos and e.g. mass panics).
    For the future they should work on improvements of predicting catastrophes better/more precise and communication to the people to make them understand their decision and decision making process.

  35. Jesse Kiste says:

    This is a tough decision because either situation likely results in the loss of lives. If you ask people to stay, you run the risk of the hurricane being worse then anticipated causing huge amount of disaster. If you ask the people to leave, (even if it is to planned locations) there will be a sense of panic, people doing their own thing (going to a wrong location, pushing through lines, causing traffic jams). With evacuation you also run the risk of increased crime/robbery for those that do stay in the area. Is it best for the government to stay neutral on the decision and simply keep the public as informed as possible, allowing the public to make their own individual decision?

    Should the planning efforts and finances be invested into preventive and educational care? When I say preventive, I mean certain construction best practices to help “weather the storm”, more robust water management channels to move water away from risk filled areas, and technology/tools that can better predict the storm and the impact on the city. The educational care, are the general public aware and trained on what to due in a hurricane situation. Being from the mid-west, it seems they do a nice job of starting tornado training at a very young age (school years) which carries well through life. Do hurricane risk areas do similar in schools/general public?

  36. Alyssa Bybee says:

    Is staying put during a hurricane the best strategy, or should people have been asked to come to distributed locations for help, or evacuate early? Should coordination of the evacuation have been planned to reduce congestion, with approved destinations outside the city? Was the decision the result of inconsistent planning or calculated risk?

    This is quite a difficult situation to mitigate, from all sides. While I believe it is the responsibility of the mayor to keep residents informed and aware of the risks involved with a hurricane of this magnitude, it would be impossible to execute flawless operation in either direction. Like many others have stated, regardless of the decision made, there was going to be mass chaos, panic, and confusion from the public–an inevitable problem without a definitive “right or wrong” solution. I do think that is best for the government to remain neutral, but to continue to keep the public informed and aware of risks, safety tips, and options available to them in the event of an emergency. Preparedness of the government in an event like this is imperative for minimizing casualties and damages. Considering the location, officials should always err on the side of safety knowing that a hurricane of that size is absolutely possible and should coordinate with surrounding cities to implement safety procedures. In this case, I believe calculated risk and inconsistent planning both contributed to the outcome.

  37. Sarah C says:

    I can only agree with what others have said; given the timeframes and the population size, evacuating Houston efficiently and safely would be impossible. One would imagine that there would be evacuation plans in place should such an event occur. However hurricanes are unpredictable and can change direction, the amount of rain etc. very quickly and thus the plan has to change.

    The most difficult thing is trying to manage people who are panicking; they do not think clearly and tend action irrationally “A person is smart. People are dumb…” (OK so this quote is from Men in Black which so low brow, but it illustrates the point!). People obviously panic in these situations (they have family, it’s scary and they’re not sure what’s going on) which makes them difficult to predict and help. But by having well placed emergency strategies in place which people are warned of ahead of time, this can help keep the calm and lessen the panic.

    I think that any decision made in this situation (or any situation of this nature) is a calculated risk, whatever you decide. It is so easy to look back and say that a different course of action should be taken. However when you have a hurricane bearing down on you, tough decisions need to be made quickly based on the information you have at hand at the time.

  38. Natalia says:

    The decision of not declaring an evacuation was largely impacted by the logistics nightmare and issues caused during hurricane Rita evacuation. However, the message of staying put at home and not releasing a voluntary and/or mandatory evacuation, even on areas of highly susceptibility of flooding, has perhaps avoided dealing with potential logistics issues, but caused massive catastrophic implications. Millions of families woke up trapped in their homes, with first responders overwhelmed with help calls, the situation turned into people trapped for several days with shortage of food, water, lights, medication, clothing, etc. In my opinion, the lessons learned from Rita experience and other hurricanes, should have triggered an immediate robust logistics emergency plan in advance to handle mandatory evacuation on strategic areas more susceptible to flood and voluntary evacuation on other areas. Having millions of people trapped in their homes, created a massive constraint on rescue boats and first responders available to rescue people stranded, causing fatalities. The incredible work of volunteers and ordinary people coming together to help one another on personal boats, jet-sky, literally forming human chains to rescue victims were vital to get us through the situation.

  39. Enoch Obeto says:

    Given the circumstances and the response time they had, it was probably the best decision to request residents to stay in their houses. The city only had a few hours notice and it was not enough time to evacuate 6.5 million people without creating other catastrophic situations which could magnify the effect of the hurricane.
    Advanced planning and better coordination is the only viable response to hurricane and other dangerous weather situations, and the city of Houston clearly failed in this respect. The best time to plan for a crisis is not during the crisis but before, it would have already been too late. Most cities, particularly those in disaster prone areas should take a lesson from this, they all need to develop in advance, a robust disaster plan that addresses emergency response end to end.

  40. Alan Cottrill says:

    Is staying put during a hurricane the best strategy, or should people have been asked to come to distributed locations for help, or evacuate early ?

    Living in an area of the country that routinely is affected by hurricanes I can tell you there is often a great deal of conflicting information coming from various media outlets and even local government entities. There are, as has been pointed out, extenuating circumstances when thinking about a city as large as Houston. For us here in NE Florida the local bridges over the waterways are closed after winds reach a certain level and there are only 3 major arteries for travel and invariably one or two of those will be going in the direction the hurricane is traveling … so it’s certainly not an easy or clear cut decision. Having said that it would also seem that with information from NWS regarding rainfall that a targeted decision to evacuate or more to shelters the areas most prone to flooding could certainly have been done without the enmasse evacuation that would have presented all of the challenges the mayor was concerned about.

    Should coordination of the evacuation have been planned to reduce congestion, with approved destinations outside the city ? Was the decision the result of inconsistent planning or calculated risk ?

    From my perspective a partial and targeted evacuation would seem to have made more sense then telling everyone to stay put. It also seems to me that there was some inconsistencies in planning and lack of prior planning that contributed to a decision to ask people to stay put given there wasn’t adequate planning and preparation to actually evacuate people.

  41. Linda Sverdrup says:

    “Should I stay or should I go now?” This punk rock song by Clash popped into my mind. Great questions with difficult judgement calls. Is staying put during a hurricane the best strategy, or should people have been asked to come to distributed locations for help, or evacuate early? The city and county should have a Disaster Preparedness Plan (DPP) or an Emergency Preparedness Plan (EPP). This plan should have outlined High Risk to Low Risk neighborhoods for flooding, as well as designated safety shelters (Lillypads) for each. The high risk neighborhoods should have evacuated to the shelters to ride out the storm. The high risk individuals – elderly, handicap, ill should have evacuated to a center or hospital. The rest could choose to stay or go as they desired. At the shelters for example, Houston could’ve had a movie night at a gymnasium or sports arena. There’s food and toilets at these locations. Not quite enough to sustain huge crowds for an extended period, but that is one location logistically to bring in supplies and aid. This is also not a simple task with a population of $6+ million, and it takes practice. As noted in the Mayor’s favor, the deaths in Texas would tell one to stay put versus evacuate, but I think moving some to shelters would’ve been prudent.

    Should coordination of the evacuation have been planned to reduce congestion, with approved destinations outside the city? YES. All this should be part of the Disaster Preparedness Plan or Emergency Preparedness Plan. They could use buses, both school and city, to transfer people from designated areas, even possibly trains to outside the city or to safety shelters. This takes money.
    This also takes practice, and practice cost money. If money was not an issue, I would’ve emergency boat buildings with both fixed and inflatable rafts, supplies, etc. at set locations as well.

    Was the decision the result of inconsistent planning or calculated risk? Its hard to judge from the limited information we have available to us. I have faith the people voted for an intelligent Mayor with experience. I’m sure there was DPP or EPP. Hind site is always 20/20, too. From what the Mayor said in the video – It appears though it was a mixture of both. The weather forecast couldn’t tell them the storm was definitively heading their way–calculated risk. The absolute chaos in the aftermath of the disaster signifies inconsistent or poor planning. Bottom line: Its hard to be the Captain of the Boat, when the boat sinks. Lackadaisical approach to disaster preparedness, combined with lack of money in the poor economy could have been a contributing factor to all of this. Funding sustainable infrastructure is critical in every city.

  42. Steven Jones says:

    In writing this, I don’t mean to minimize the weight of leadership on the mayor’s shoulders or to pretend I understand that weight like he does. At the risk of coming off as an armchair quarterback, I do see it as important to analyze these situations in preparation for my own growth in leadership.

    A robust evacuation and contingency logistics plan would have been helpful. It just seems odd that a leader of a complex city, in a flat coastal geographic setting, who has recent case studies with Hurricanes Ike, Katrina, and Rita at his fingertips would not have a robust contingency plan. His plan seemed like it was “all or nothing”, either call an all-out evacuation (mandatory or voluntary) or call people to hunker down in their homes. As such, the people who were severely impacted experienced an avoidable event. With today’s software capability, data analysis, and disaster contingency experts, a pre-thought out and practiced plan that considered varying degrees of potential disasters based on location would have been helpful – particularly considering the short notice that the city had for the landfall of the hurricane. Those in potentially high impact zones because of local waterways, bayous, and proximity to the Gulf could have been targeted for mandatory evacuation along a specific and managed route.

    Judging from the loss of lives that occurred during the mass exodus from Southeast Texas in preparation for Hurricane Rita, it is apparent that the Mayor considered that the larger size and more compact nature of Houston than Southeast Texas could have larger implications on human life. I’m sure that he considered this decision as a calculated risk. However, considering all the recent hurricanes and geographic nature of the city, the mayor was certainly not prepared. And even considering that preparation for something like Hurricane Harvey can be seen as cost prohibitive and barely practical considering that the tragedy and destruction was a once in a thousand year event, the ill preparation is still a misjudgment because of the impact on lives.

    In my city, Seattle, the city’s leadership in conjunction with the governor of Washington have built numerous contingency models for disasters that are particular for our area: a tsunami, earthquakes on land, earthquakes in the sound, volcanic eruptions, etc. Every so often these disaster plans are rebuilt considering new construction and infrastructure and changing populations. Additionally, the disasters are mocked so that data could be collected to iterate the plans – and leaders get some sort of practice running the plans. Additionally, zones of differentiated impact are built into the plan which targets varying levels of impact caused by any such disaster. I don’t mean to imply that Seattle is superior to Houston, but that such disaster planning could be seen as a part of city leadership accountability.

  43. Henry Reed-Schertz says:

    Is staying put during a hurricane the best strategy, or should people have been asked to come to distributed locations for help, or evacuate early?

    I believe if you look at all of the natural disasters over the last 10 years a lone there will always be hindsight of 20/20. I think that Aaron said it best it is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. Each leader is going to take a different approach to these natural disasters. In my opinion there are too many unknowns when it comes to weather related incidents and to criticize a leader for those decisions seems ambiguous. The goal needs to be saving the most lives possible. It its harsh but in what can be called life and death situations you have to be able to save the most people even if the goal is to save everyone. As Turner said “you literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road” this can stem from the notice going out to late or not at all but if everyone is on the road at once you can now be trapped in a flood plain or put yourself in a more risky situation.
    “Should coordination of the evacuation have been planned to reduce congestion, with approved destinations outside the city?” – I think that once again stems back to an opinion and each leader will take a different approach. As I don’t this the proper plan was in place at the time of the disaster it would not have made sense to try and develop a plan under the gun. We saw there were “lilly-pad” locations for people to seek refuge but even those were becoming over crowded and posing larger issues on being able to take care of the people.

    Was the decision the result of inconsistent planning or calculated risk?
    Based on the article I this the decision was a result of inconsistent planning. While it was spun to be a calculated risk I don’t believe they had the proper planning in place. There appeared to be a lack of coordination. This stems down to the root where the mayor of Houston and Governor of Teaxs were sending different message to the media and the citizens of Houston. Obviously with weather you are dealing with extreme situation and this cannot always be predicted on how bad. The rain total was an additional 15” to what the national weather association had predicted and the City did not have the plan in place to properly advise its people. As Abbott said “if you wait until you realize how serious the condition is, you likely will find it’s too late for you to be able to evacuate”, I believe that once the storm hit, Houston was in a spot where it was too late.

  44. Jessica Heaton says:

    Is staying put during a hurricane the best strategy, or should people have been asked to come to distributed locations for help, or evacuate early ?

    Similar to what others have already mentioned, even with the best technology weather is extremely unpredictable. I see this first hand every winter as weatherman try to predict snow storms throughout the Midwest. I feel the Mayor and other city officials made the best they could, not to evacuate, with the information at hand. As described in the article, last time the city evacuated it was more harmful to the residents. I do feel there seemed to have been a bit of a mixed message between officials, as will happen during times of uncertainty. This is one area that I see as an opportunity to improve.

    Should coordination of the evacuation have been planned to reduce congestion, with approved destinations outside the city ? Was the decision the result of inconsistent planning or calculated risk ?

    I do feel the decision was made based on inconsistent planning. While each hurricane and circumstance is unique there should be a set playbook to use when certain threats appear immanent. Especially after the last tragedy the city should’ve reviewed evacuation routes and the issues caused by congestion to avoid a similar situation. The mixed messaging between officials that I mentioned earlier, leads me to believe it wasn’t part of a calculated risk plan and was just based on lack of forecasting and disaster planning. As unfortunate as this event was, hopefully this helped the city realize the importance of having these plans in place for such an occasion.

  45. Sandeep Singhatia says:

    Assume you are the one who have to take decision in this situation
    Engineers told you that the city had high-water rescue vessels strategically positioned to help evacuate people if needed.
    Also you know from your sources that Southeast Texas was hammered by Hurricane Rita just weeks after Katrina devastated New Orleans. In that scenario, local officials issued evacuation orders, but the consequences were tragic. Several people died as thousands and thousands attempted to flee the storm in gridlocked traffic.
    The information you are not 100% sure about is how bad flood will be and like what Jessica said even with the best technology weather is extremely unpredictable

    So I believe Myers picked the safer choice of not evacuating everyone but staying at home.
    I guess he was right when he said, ‘I don’t want 6.5 million people on flooded roadways and dying in their cars'” Myers said. Even though this decision is coming out from a single person’s mouth, its a combine decision of the group working for people of Houston. Engineers, scientists, analysts and many others must have been involved to look at the choices government have and estimate the risk.
    Well said Aaron “it is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation”

    Yes few things could have been done
    Let’s say officials tell us, if you live in a flood zone, you need to evacuate. Well, people don’t know if they live in a flood zone. People don’t understand their risk. Speaking about my experience I didn’t know if I live in flood zone before I faced flood situation in Colorado back in 2013. So I believe government should have spread information about areas which are at more risk and plan the evacuation based on the weather.
    Also it was published in articles that Houston didn’t evacuate this time because it “learned a lesson” from Hurricane Rita, when people died on gridlocked roads after a mass evacuation order was issued. That happened years ago so I believe leaders should have a coordinated plan before this happened.
    Again Its a natural disaster, yes we do have technology to predict the risk but no one can give 100% surety about what will/can happen and what we could have done. I truly believe government take decision in favor of people and they try their best to do so.

  46. Lindsey Minto says:

    The decision not to evacuate everyone was a carefully calculated risk based on a disastrous history of previous severe weather activities. With previous hurricanes, the decision to evacuate left many people stuck in hours long traffic and subject to worse conditions than if they had just sheltered in place. As others have said, it is so easy to look back and say that the decision made was right or wrong. It is incredibly difficult to look forward and predict the severity or best reaction to the impending disaster. There are steps that can be taken to minimize the crisis, especially after the storm hits.

    While coordination of the evacuation sounds like a nice idea but there is no way to control for human nature. There is an element of panic and information sharing that leads to that panic. So if one part of the city is being evacuated, then the rest of the city will know about it and run the risk of evacuating and ruining the coordinated plan to reduce congestion.

    What can be done is to clearly communicate backup plans and rescue options. Additionally, in preparation of a storm, resources can be brought in, such as food and water, and distributed. Repair resources and emergency equipment can be staged and strategically deployed as further details on the storm emerge.

  47. Marcello Sanzi says:

    Is staying put during a hurricane the best strategy, or should people have been asked to come to distributed locations for help, or evacuate early ? Should coordination of the evacuation have been planned to reduce congestion, with approved destinations outside the city ?

    This is a tough question. As Ross have mentioned before what if the mayor asks for everyone to evacuate and the hurricane misses the town. Would people say that it is better to be safe than sorry?

    In my opinion I do believe the best strategy is to get as many people out for safety even though I believe it would be a chaos to have everyone trying to leave at the same time without an evacuation planning.

    Was the decision the result of inconsistent planning or calculated risk ?
    It is hard to say since the mayor had short notice of the magnitude of the storm, however I do believe that someone responsible for so many lives wouldn’t take a decision like this without having some calculated risk.

  48. Vivek Chakrabortty says:

    This was a failure of leadership and planning.
    The mayor seems to have approached this as a “all or nothing” decision which was based on flawed planning assumptions. The mayor’s statement that “You literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road” indicates that the city had a fundamental gap in its disaster planning methodology.
    Prior to the hurricane there was little preparedness on part of the community to recognize the risks of a major flood. As a result, Houston found itself in exactly the same position that New Orleans was in prior to Hurricane Katrina – an ill-prepared mayor, poorly planned evacuation routes, and an unsuspecting population who had not been made aware of the risks or trained to respond in this type of situation.
    For a certain percentage of the population, the only option may be to stay put during a hurricane. These folks would have been asked to come to distributed locations for help. Those with means should have evacuated early. Evacuation orders and routes should have been designated by zone within the city based on the risk profile of each respective zone.

  49. Vinod Reddy says:

    Houston with 6.5M people and evacuations within 6 hours would be highly impossible. Evacuation on such scale would be require weeks. It would also have been difficult to manage rescue services if hurricane hit with people on road.
    Mayor took calculated risk to order people to stay indoor. this would have provided easy access to reach people in distress. There are lily pads provided for distribution relief center where people come to this location in the event of flooding.
    Houston is prone flooding, hurricane and excess rainfall. The city over the years should have data on flood prone area, low lying planes which would help identify such areas and allowed people to move to safer location. this was miss with people.
    Is staying put during a hurricane the best strategy, or should people have been asked to come to distributed locations for help, or evacuate early ? People should have followed to distributed locations.

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