Saturday, September 24, 2005

An actual hurrican evacuation plan

Okay, this is a 100% serious proposal, albeit one in need of some fleshing-out.

I start with the following assumptions about the ideal evacuation plan.

1. If there were people who wanted to leave and couldn't, those people would be in relatively safe areas rather than relatively dangerous ones.

2. As many people as possible would get out.

Now, if you want as many people as possible to get out, then clearly you have to keep congestion low, and this means that you would prefer a high ratio of escapees to vehicles. You also do not want some roads to be overutilized while other roads are underutilized. And you want to unleash the creativity of the private individual, which, as Wal-Mart has shown us, is generally much more effective than government action.

So here is my plan, using the Rita evacuation as an example.

1. When you register to vote in an area that may require evacuation, you are assigned to an evacuation group, and given a placard that you can hang from your rearview mirror when evacuation is necessary. For example, Galveston, Texas City, and downtown Houston would represent three different evacuation groups. (In Texas I'd want to try to make use of the EZPass infrastructure that allows a car to drive through a checkpoint at 60 mph and be recognized and identified as a specific car associated with a specific credit card.)

2. Official evacuation routes are defined in advance and signposted, and also are divided into clearly marked sections. For example, I-45 from Galveston to Dallas would be an official evacuation route, divided into one section from Galveston to the FM 1764 intersection near Texas City, another section from FM 1764 to I-10, and another section from I-10 to Buffalo, etc.

3. When an evacuation threat arises, the government prioritizes evacuation groups and declares an evacuation schedule. Anybody who wants to evacuate may evacuate whenever they want -- but only if they use some road other than the official evacuation routes. This, as you perceive, maximizes the use of alternate evacuation routes and helps minimize the sort of inefficiency that allowed me to go to Austin in five hours on back roads while others were taking twenty on the official routes. The evacuation routes are counterflowed as soon as the schedule kicks in, except for one lane (marked off with cones) for emergency vehicles; and the driver of any vehicle on an official evacuation route without the appropriate placard gets a stiff fine.

From 12:00 Tuesday to 14:00 Tuesday: I-45 south of I-10 is counterflowed; northbound Galveston evacuees only on I-45 south of I-10.
From 14:00 Tuesday to 20:00 Tuesday: I-45 south of Buffalo is counterflowed; northbound Galveston evacuees only on I-45 south of Buffalo.
From 20:00 Tuesday to 04:00 Wednesday: I-45 south of Dallas is counterflowed; northbound Galveston, Texas City and League City evacuees only on I-45 south of Dallas.
From 04:00 Wednesday to 14:00 Wednesday: northbound evacuees from Pearland, La Porte, and points south only.
From 14:00 Wednesday to 10:00 Thursday: northbound traffic only, for anybody who wants to head north.

4. For any particular evacuation, placards may be leased on the open market for the duration of the evacuation. That is, a person may sell his right to evacuate with a high-priority group, to a person in a lower-priority group.

The last provision may seem outrageously "unfair," but note that its primary effect is to reduce the number of small vehicles on the road and to give private individuals an incentive to bring in large vehicles (e.g. buses) and evacuate those unable or unwilling to drive.

Example 1: I have a Suburban and I intend to evacuate League City to go stay with friends in Austin. My neighbor is an elderly individual whose son lives in Austin and is planning to drive down and get him. Instead, I offer to take my neighbor with me. We auction my neighbor's placard off on e-bay (or, for that matter, on a state-run electronic exchange) and split the proceeds. The person who bought our placard gets to evacuate early; so the people who are really panicked or for other reasons are especially desperate to leave, can go ahead and buy a placard and leave. Meanwhile my neighbor's son's car stays in Austin, and the traffic load is reduced by one vehicle.

Example 2: I show up in Texas City with a tour bus, in a section of town where a lot of people don't have cars, or where gas shortages are making it difficult for people to buy gas. I collect forty people, use one placard, and auction off the other thirty-nine, thus performing a public service and making a profit in the bargain.

Note that the more dangerous the storm is perceived to be, the more valuable the placards become, and the more incentive private individuals have to get people out while conserving placards -- that is, to get people evacuated while minimizing the congestion on the roads.

Okay, comments? I have put only about twenty minutes of thought into this; you're getting in on the ground floor, so to speak, because I've only just started playing with this idea.

UPDATE: In order to avoid having people in Galveston, say, sell all their rights forward for ten years and then not be legally allowed to leave in a mandatory evacuation, I think we need to say that the declaration of a mandatory evacuation causes all evacuation rights to revert to the original which point they can go back to selling them, but only if they evacuate (that is, if they find some way out other than their own car, and they go ahead and leave). If you stay in a mandatory evacuation zone, then your evacuation rights are cancelled and you have to give the money back to anybody to whom you sold them. You can sell your rights forward, but anybody buying the rights knows that they lose the right if you move out of the evacuation zone or if a mandatory evacuation in your zone is declared; thus far-forward rights would be very steeply discounted, killing most trading out further than the next hurricane season.

Also the more I think about it the more I realize that this doesn't work well without EZTag-type technology, and that you would need an evacuation rights on-line exchange. I'm in the field of mission-critical software consulting myself, though (trading software, as a matter of fact), and while I wouldn't be one of the bidders for the contract, I can absolutely say that it's quite feasible to set up such an exchange. You're basically talking about a market in evacuation rights similar to markets in emissions allowances -- each "right" gets a serial number, etc.


At 2:25 PM, Blogger Alexandra said...

OK, Kenny you don't know this about me: I loathe forms. I loathe cues. I loathe crowds. I loath packing. And when I travel I am in the habit of taking all... But, most of all I hate,HATE moving!!!

I was in absolute stitches when reading your post because you couldn't have asked a more unsuitable person to critique your no doubt brilliant plan. My toenails curled up - not because of the necessity of fleeing a fatal storm, I can handle that (LOL), but for the thought of the bureaucracy a scheme like this inevitably would entail.

In fact getting me to read through it all could only be accomplished in committed deference to you Kenny.

A perfect nightmare, brilliantly told. Regarding the logistics, I have to uncurl my toenails first, finish my glass of something stiff, and come back to you on that one!

Apropos the evacuation idea, a la Alexandra style you'll love this little anecdote: My husband, daughter of six months and I were setting out on extended travels some years ago. We had locked up the house and decided to start the journey one day prior to departure in our favourite hotel . Late afternoon the next day, when the time to depart had come, we set off for the Airport; one car for my family and one mini-bus jam-packed with a total of 21 pieces of black suitcases.

We were of course fashionably late. Checking in the luggage was a procedure of its own. It took nearly 40 minutes, at the end of which a cheerful b...h of a supervisor announced to us that we had missed the flight. Missed the flight? I am at the counter for the last 40 minutes!!! I was shell-shocked. So, off we went re-tour to the hotel. The steward who had loaded the luggage not so long ago looked very cheerful at the prospect of getting another hefty tip for reloading the same luggage an hour later.

Next day, now slightly earlier, (only another 30 minutes though, I hate being too early) off we went again, complete with mini-bus in toe. After securing the services of the sum total of available luggage porters at the terminal, we went through the same checking-in procedure. This time it took even longer. And of course, there was the matter of overweight. Telephone numbers in Pound Sterling. Needless to say, all 21 suitcases had to be lugged back to our side of the counter pending settlement of the overweight bill - the counter at which payment had to be made was of course half way across the terminal.

By now puffing and panting, and having certainly attracted the attention of the entire terminal, we had finally returned having paid our dues and were ready to go. Ahh, but wait, enter the same cheerful b...h from the night before. "Sorry Ma'm, the flight is gone. You have missed your flight.... again." I'll spare you the detailed account of the ensuing exchange. Needless to say Jeff Goldstein had nothing on my verbal acumen.

After a lot of composing we decided to store most of the luggage overnight at the airport. I had to be sedated, in fear of having all my possessions stolen at the storage (pathetic really) and were back on our way to the hotel. Again. They felt sorry for us and spoilt us so, by the time we retired, we had entirely restored our sense of humor. The sedatives helped, but I'd like to think it was my husband's array of jokes that didi it. Until of course, I realized that I had chosen the wrong suitcase to take with me (they were all identical) leaving me only with the clothes on my back, and an array of napies and baby clothes....

Anyway, day three had us at the Airport at lunch time (six hours early for the flight), checking the luggage in as cargo and from then on enjoying a event-free journey. Well almost......

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