Governor Rick Perry today issued an executive order that implements most of the recommendations of the Task Force on Evacuation Transportation and Logistics.
"Our goal is to learn from the lessons that Hurricane Rita taught us and make Texans safer in future mass evacuations," Perry said. "These directives focus on saving lives and reducing the vulnerability of Texans – particularly those least able to fend for themselves."
Like the Task Force report, the executive order focuses on the five key areas of command, control and communications; evacuation of people with special needs; fuel availability; traffic flow; and public awareness.
"To improve command control and communications, I have directed mayors and county judges in each the state's 24 councils of government to establish a regional command structure and appoint an incident commander to lead each region's efforts to prepare for disasters and execute a response like a mass evacuation," Perry said.
The Department of Public Safety will be responsible for command, control and communications for evacuations that involve multiple regions.
The order also directs the governor's Division of Emergency Management (DEM) to develop a statewide evacuation and shelter plan and oversee the development of local and regional plans throughout the state, as well as lead a yearly statewide evacuation exercise. The executive order emphasizes that DEM should work with school districts and public colleges and universities to ensure their buses and facilities are available for evacuation and sheltering, and address the needs of Texans with special needs during an evacuation.
"While we succeeded in evacuating thousands of Texans with special needs from the Houston and Galveston areas in advance of Hurricane Rita's landfall, the Task Force identified steps that must be taken to improve the process," Perry said. "I have directed my Division of Emergency Management to work with state agencies to develop a database of people with special needs and ensure evacuation plans are in place to safely evacuate Texans with special needs."
A key challenge raised in Task Force hearings across the state was the need for improved traffic and fuel management. Perry directed the Texas Department of Transportation to work with industry partners on fuel availability plan for major evacuation routes, and asked local officials to ensure local evacuation plans also address fuel availability.
"While we will not be able to eliminate traffic when a major urban area is evacuated, we can take steps to improve the flow of traffic in future evacuations," Perry said. "I have directed the Departments of Public Safety and Transportation to work together to develop contra-flow plans for major evacuation routes to help ease congestion."
Legislative action is required to implement one of the Task Force's recommendations that would give a governor the authority to order evacuations in catastrophic events that impact more than one jurisdiction.