BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In the case of an extreme event or disaster,
many areas in upstate New York are ill prepared for a large-scale
evacuation of people who don't own personal vehicles, says
University at Buffalo transportation and evacuation expert Daniel
B. Hess, Ph.D.
Hess has evaluated the written emergency plans of the four major
cities in upstate New York, as well as upstate areas near nuclear
plants. He points out that the "carless" include a vast number of
poor, elderly and disabled people.
An associate professor of urban and regional planning in the UB
School of Architecture and Planning, Hess has conducted extensive
research on evacuation planning and is studying the ability of
central upstate cities to perform a complete evacuation during an
"This is a potentially very dangerous situation," says Hess,
"because the percentage of households without vehicles in upstate
New York cities meets or exceeds the percentage of such homes in
New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck."
He points out that 28 percent of households in Albany have no
vehicle access. Thirty-one percent of Buffalonians are without
cars; 27 percent of people living in Syracuse are without cars and
25 percent of Rochester residents do not have cars.
"Nevertheless," Hess says, "with the exception of sites near
nuclear power plants, many upstate places have inadequate written
plans for mass evacuation when it comes to this particular
population," he says.
Although hurricanes are rare in this region, Hess notes that it
is necessary to plan for possible evacuation in case of severe
storms, flooding, fires, chemical spills, nuclear accidents and
other man-made disasters (including terror events), as well as
possible earthquakes, because the region is crisscrossed with
geological fault lines.
In their study of upstate New York emergency plans, published in
the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Hess and
co-researcher Julie C. Gotham, identified the strengths and
weaknesses of the written plans' evacuation methods.
They recommend that planners direct their efforts to include
wide population samples, best practices for carless evacuations and
use of multiple methods of transportation.
Hess has spent years studying the devastating aftermath from
Hurricane Katrina; this week he returned from New Orleans, where he
studied the emergency planning of acute-care hospitals during
Hurricane Gustav to discover what was learned since Katrina.
His research is funded by MCEER, a national center of
excellence, headquartered at UB, dedicated to the discovery and
development of new knowledge, tools and technologies that equip
communities to become more disaster resilient in the face of
earthquakes and other extreme events.
Extreme-event planning and mitigation is a strategic research
strength at UB. UB faculty members have expertise in earthquake
engineering, the design of resilient communities, disaster response
and design of sensors to detect dangerous biological agents.
Hess says that it is clear, especially in the face of the
successful evacuation of New Orleans prior to Hurricane Gustav,
that emergency planners must employ a variety of methods to move
people to safety. In particular he cites the use of high capacity
vehicles -- public transit, private buses and vans, long-distance
train -- and even walk-out plans for downtowns.