Update: I Best Stay Away from the Booze---before I Really Lose it!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Please take a look at my previous comments before Hurricane Rita hit Houston:
First Report

Second Report

I regret that I had responsibilities which prevented me from blogging during the storm. Oh well, it turns out that I was right---and now a number of other people are now starting to agree with me. Tom Kirkendall of Houston Clear Thinkers is coming to his senses:

“My thoughts are more with regard to the plan itself, which during implementation encouraged all Houston residents -- even those in non-mandatory evacuation areas -- to evacuate. The result was that, despite the fact that Houston has the most highway lane-miles per capita of America's large metro areas, dangerous gridlock and accidental deaths occurred, and the area experienced severe gasoline shortages as a result of the huge spike in demand.”

The Rita evacuation advice provided by Mayor Bill White was an act of gross irresponsibility. Simple math was all that’s required to realize that you can’t move millions of people out of a major city. Where are they going to go? Was there supposed to be a space ship to take them to Mars? Many small cities are overwhelmed when even a few thousand fans show up for a college football game. Millions of people? Let’s get serious. Only those who resided in the dangerous areas closer to Galveston should have been encouraged to leave. Those of us like myself living in the higher regions some sixty miles from the coast should have stayed put. A number of Houstonians who were truly in danger were unable to leave because so many others not in similar danger were turning the freeways into a major parking lot.

Little consideration was also given to the financial wherewithal of some who live in the lower areas. They barely have two nickels to rub together. How were they going to leave? Where could they possibly go? Things are bad enough if you are modestly affluent. Who is going to pick up the tab for those who do not possess a major credit card with at least a couple of thousand dollars of credit available?


Knucklehead said...


There will almost certainly be some good analysis done wrt how to conduct mass evacuations in the future. Both Katrina and Reeter pushed beyond what anyone involved with such things had ever attempted in anything other than simulation.

Just looking at it from afar I would guess that "improvements" will come in three basic areas:

- better categorization of who should leave and who can safely stay
- staging of evacuation (apparently Houston planned for this but couldn't pull it off very well)
- route preparation - pre-positioning essential supplies like fuel and recovery vehicles and even, perhaps, actually closing and clearing evac routes to allow for setting them up properly. It may turn out that the best way to move a million people in 48 hours is to move nobody for the first 6 or 8 or 12 while you prep the routes.

Like I said, just guessing.

I would urge y'all to not get too wound up by the bus disaster. Horrible, yes. This is precisely the sorts of risks incurred. Tragedies like that will happen during mass movements of people. It is an attribute of evacuation rather than one of unecessary evacutation.

When dealing with massive operations they can't be judged by every individual success or failure - they have to be judged by the overall success or failure. The individual successes and failures are the things you try to make better but they cannot be the measuring stick.

David Thomson said...

“...staging of evacuation (apparently Houston planned for this but couldn't pull it off very well)”

I take it a step further. It is inherently impossible to evacuate millions of people in a few days! The math simply doesn’t add up.

Knucklehead said...


But didn't they move millions of people? I don't have the data but the impression I got from watching the very flawed MSM coverage is that they moved well over 1 million people - the number "more than two million" has wedged in my head somehow.

Whatever the number actually moved was, analysts will now begin to look at the specifics.

That will be things like:

Did we move more than it was necessary to move? If yes, then how do we decrease the number toward something more appropriate? If no, how could we have moved more?

Moving huge numbers of autos over roads is not simply a matter of freeway-miles per capita. There is "science" in it. Studies have shown the similarity to other flows - water in rivers, for example. Traffic develops turbulence and flow rates are effected in remarkably similar ways to fluids. There are ideal speeds (which bear little or no relationship to speed limits) for various concentration levels and so on, controlled entry and exit, and so on.

Highway systems are "designed" to move the normal flow of commerce into, around, and out of a city and to manage that within a narrow band of emergency occurences. They are not designed to maximize flow in an outward direction while maintaining essential inbound capability.

They were not designed for evacuation purposes but can, presumably, be used for such purposes with "on demand reconfiguration". I fully expect there to be studies providing some answers to how to "reshape" metro area highway systems to maximize them for mass evacuation. There are undoubtedly such studies made in the past. What they lacked was real-world testing. Now they've got some of that and they will be revised accordingly.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

It's a case of once bitten, twice shy. We're jumpy now. Unless the federal government waves its magic wand and teleports everybody somewhere else, well, then it's just "America's Shame".

David Thomson said...

Encouraging people to leave must be based on their degree of risk. Many of those who left the Houston metroplex were in little danger---even if a Cat 5 hit the area. Allow me to repeat myself: people truly in harm’s way were often unable to leave because of those who lived in relatively safe areas turned the highways into parking lots. For heaven’s sake, some folks even abandoned Conroe, Texas! This small city north of Houston is around 90 miles from the coast. It would, at the very worst, have experienced no more than a major rainfall.

flenser said...


Initial reports I saw were lauding the mayor for his handling of this situation. I think you are the first blogger I have seen criticize him.

It does sound like there was an over-reaction, understandable perhaps in the wake of Katrina.

David Thomson said...

“It does sound like there was an over-reaction, understandable perhaps in the wake of Katrina.”

Overreacting can be as dangerous as under reacting. Both extremes should be discouraged---and equally criticized. Mayor White’s exaggerated response cost a lot of grief. Only those who lived in the dangerous areas should have been encouraged to leave. Instead, they had to compete with those in the safer areas for access to the freeways. If Rita had indeed been a Cat 5, Mayor White’s stupidity might have been responsible for numerous deaths.

vnjagvet said...

In the north (I grew up in Erie, Pa., the heart of the snowbelt) there are "snow routes" which have been preplanned to allow ingress and egress in predictable ways in the event of a blizzard. These routes are plainly marked by sign and maps, and are announced operable in the event of snow emergency.

If I recall correctly, these are based on principles of fluid flow as Knuck suggested.

It seems that this type of thing could be worked out in advance for future emergencies in all metro areas.

Beldar had an interesting map on his post which showed the areas at risk on Thursday 9/22. This indicates they could have had a staged evacuation based on risk, had they had a more elaborate route plan.

terrye said...

Growing up in Oklahoma the only thing we heard was "get under ground now!"

I think more people left Houston than was necessary but at the same time the government is not alone in bearing responsibility for this.

There were people running from Rita that had never evacuated before. No doubt that is why the interstates got so jammed up. Nobody, including the Mayor really expected all those people to hit the road.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

It allows us to criticize the powers that be for not evacuating one city and for evacuating another.

Media driven panic played a part in this as well.

I was watching all that on TV and wondering why more people did not just drive west and wait it out for a day or two? West is the one way that damn storm can not go.

Driving from Houston to Memphis to find a Motel room struck me as bizarre.

We went from America's Shame to America's Gridlock.