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Evacuation lessons learned from Ida

Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 8:20 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The National Hurricane Center issued its first official advisory and forecast for Hurricane Ida on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021 at 10 a.m., barely three days before heavy weather moved into southeast Louisiana and leaving little time for evacuations of our most vulnerable population.

Many were aware a storm might threaten.

“Early in the week they always say keep an eye on it. Keep an eye on it,” a Grand Isle resident said.

Once the official forecast put southeast Louisiana in the cone, officials warned residents to get ready fast.

“There is not a lot of time. Generally where you are on Saturday night is where you have to hunker down and stay,” Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said in a pre-storm press conference.

With the potential major storm on the way, evacuating was no question for some.

“They said hurricane two or three. It was time to go,” a New Orleans resident said.

Officials said the time crunch prevented a mandatory evacuation.

“We didn’t have the time with Ida to safely call for a mandatory evacuation where we would be putting over a million people on the road,” Collin Arnold, Director of New Orleans Homeland Security and Emergency Management said.

There wasn’t enough time to coordinate contraflow and although officials throughout the area encouraged voluntary evacuations, they say as many as 50-70% of residents in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes stayed through the storm.

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“Voluntary might mean to me that it’s not necessary to evacuate, where for an official, it might mean that you need to do everything you can to be ready to evacuate if we give an order. Those differences of opinion, those differences of understanding, can get people stuck,” said Tricia Wachtendorf, Director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware.

Wachtendorf studies evacuation behavior. She said people decide to evacuate using a sequence of stages.

“They have to hear, understand, believe, personalize, confirm, and then they start reacting,” she said.

Knowing how you plan to react at each stage can help you keep your family safe with a faster response.

“If they get hung up on one of those decision points that can cause a delay,” said Wachtendorf.

Vehicles head slowly east on the Interstate-10 twin spans leaving New Orleans while only a...
Vehicles head slowly east on the Interstate-10 twin spans leaving New Orleans while only a trickle of cars heads west back into the city before landfall of Hurricane Ida in New Orleans, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. A combination of voluntary and mandatory evacuations were called for cities and communities across the region including New Orleans, where the mayor ordered a mandatory evacuation for areas outside the city’s levee system and a voluntary evacuation for residents inside the levee system. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)(Matthew Hinton | AP)

Arnold said Orleans Parish plans to improve on two fronts for the upcoming season based on their Ida experience.

First, they are working to speed up assisted evacuations.

“We’re trying to come up with a solution that actually moves that timeline a little bit forward... So we do have potentially the time to take care of vulnerable medically or mobility impaired persons that that really need our assistance in being safe,” he said.

Second, the city is shoring up its post-storm resources, working to have 15 generator-supported cooling centers - up from eight, including the Convention Center, ready to help residents quickly after a storm.

“And this is going to be a real change for us as well. I think we are moving towards the idea that people need to take responsibility for themselves during hurricanes when these storms are approaching and that we want to help them give them the information and the tools to do that,” Arnold said.

Valiente stresses those mandatory evacuations are a final call to action.

“Once parish officials called for a mandatory evacuation, you need to be ready to leave at that point... not 10 hours or 15 hours from there. You need to be able to leave within an hour,” said Joe Valiente, Director of Emergency Management in Jefferson Parish.

Both offices plan to prioritize residents in assisted living facilities and said more targeted mandatory evacuations are always possible.

Find more evacuation information at NOLA Ready, Jefferson Parish Emergency Management, Get A Game Plan, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and your local parish and county emergency management offices.

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