Friday, September 09, 2005

Katrina Logistics Puzzlement

I don't understand the New Orleans/Gulf Coast hurricane evacuation planning or the subsequent criticism, because neither seems to talk about the use of buses from all over. Drudge reported on the Louisiana evacuation plan based on buses, as of course it had to be; many bloggers have talked about the Nagin Memorial Motor Pool and how thousands could have been saved by using those buses; others, especially at Countercolumn, have talked about the logistical limits of those buses, how they couldn't have saved everybody; but those aren't all the buses available. I'd have expected a process more or less like this:

  1. There are people living below sea level.
  2. They're in a hurricane zone.
  3. It will be flooded.
  4. So we tell them: If you don't get out, you'll die.
  5. Oops, 100,000+ of them are poor, with no cars.
  6. Okay, they need to be bused out.
  7. Oops, the City of New Orleans has less than a thousand buses. (Besides, we need to evacuate many outside the city, too.)
  8. Okay, the State of Louisiana has 4.5 million people and certainly has several thousand buses. (I don't know how many. In 2000, the US had some 53 million school-age kids with 48 million enrolled in school -- about 17% of the population. That's probably pretty close to Louisiana's percentage, though New Orleans school-age kids seems to be more like 20% of the population. I presume that a reasonably large fraction of these ride buses.)
  9. Other states have buses too.
  10. Hey, let's plan to bring in enough buses! (Is this rocket science?)
  11. Oops, it takes a while to bring in buses; Google Maps says that from the far corner of Louisiana you might need 8 hours, from the far corners of Arkansas you might need 13. You probably don't need those, but if you do --
  12. when we get to the 60-hour mark, they (enough of them) start driving.
  13. If all goes well, they will drive back. Empty. (Yes, this costs money. Maybe over a thousand dollars per bus per false alarm -- several million dollars total. Wow.)
  14. If not, they drive back full. To schools, churches, whatever.
  15. Oops, we found in other evacuations, some people won't go without their pets.
  16. Okay, we also have trucks, uncomfortable but available: give your dog a sedative, get on, GO!
  17. Oops, there may not be enough fuel for all these extra vehicles and the cars headed out.
  18. Okay, we also have fuel trucks, going down at roughly the same time.

There will naturally be other Oopses, mostly having to do with coordination. I would assume that the several hundred buses of the city being evacuated would be used to ferry people to the highway, and the couple-of-thousand buses going away from it would pick them up there. (This could also make people more willing to go, if they get to choose from a limited set of destinations, especially prearranged destinations.) I would assume that every bus can have a cell phone which talks to a database via text messaging to an email address, and every bus probably has a pair of National Guardsmen (one of whom is good at text messaging) in addition to any Guardsmen they may have to deploy at the end point or even at gas stations on the way. So on the drive, everybody gets on the list.

Cell phone problems? Remember, we are doing this coordination before wind takes out the cell phone towers...and text messaging is low-bandwidth, generally. Actually, the post-disaster coordination can still depend on cells, if the first thing the helicopters from the Bataan do (long before the levees break) is to set up portable cell towers. From anchored balloons, if they have to.

Traffic problems? Yes, though the buses are a small addition to the many thousands of cars on the way, so the inbound lanes that became outbound lanes would be restricted to buses and trucks and cars carrying more than -- oh, I don't know, maybe more than 5 people. Lots of problems, but what I really don't understand is why nobody seems to be talking about those other buses. I'm missing something.

UPDATE: instapundit points to Louisiana Fast Facts 2000 which reports 21,000 registered buses at that time. That ought to be enough for a million or so riders, and there were many more cars than 21,000 in the evacuation, so I really see no reason why Louisiana shouldn't have been able to evacuate all the carless people from New Orleans, and from any other parts of the coast that might have needed it.


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