Saturday, September 24, 2005

Evacuation Plan “B”

Monday morning quarterbacking is easy and so I will not point my finger, shake it about and blame anyone in particular for the total fiasco which was called the evacuation of the Houston and areas to the south such as Galveston, and Freeport. Well, maybe I will do some finger pointing.

There were a few things that could have been handled better when asking for an orderly evacuation of roughly 1 – 3 million people. The problem was not that there was insufficient fuel; at least that should not have been an issue. Most of the folks who hit the roads leading out of the area had followed the advice to top off their tanks. The primary problem was the inability of those in a position to close down the inbound lanes of major limited access roads and to then use all lanes as outbound evacuation routes. It took 6 -12 hours for the realization to hit home; people were in gridlock and burning up precious time and fuel while not making forward progress.

I remember Theodore Roosevelt’s line about not having a perfect plan; action on an imperfect plan is better than waiting for a perfect one, so here’s my advice on how to handle a Future evacuation of the Houston area. It would help to have real leaders; those who have a backbone or testicles, either or both would be preferable to the babbling fools who kept stepping up to microphones and telling us that they had more planning meetings to go to. “I feel you’re frustration” is not what I want to hear from our elected officials when they should have the courage to do what is necessary.

It would not have taken but one hour to safely clear off all inbound traffic, blockade entry ramps and reverse the flow outbound. The trick is to have a fork lift or similar machine to lift a couple of the concrete safety median blocks to create a new exit ramp that feeds into the normally inbound lanes. While that is being accomplished an order would be given to have emergency vehicle with light bars enter and station themselves on the freeway inbound lanes so make sure that vehicles did not enter via illegal means such as driving over curbs and esplanades. It would only take a few emergency vehicles with light bars flashing to run out in front as a line formed behind them. Start off at a speed of 20 mph and increase it as soon as possible to normal freeway speeds. The flow of traffic behind would make it impossible for inbound traffic to even consider entry and thereby insure a steady flow outbound.

There would not have been very many stranded motorists, other than the calculated idiot who didn’t fill up to begin with or the disabled vehicle that would have broken down anyway. Those vehicles would not have created the massive gridlock and could easily have been factored in. The fact that most gas stations along the evacuation routes were either out of gas or closed should have been addressed by the private sector; this is, after all, a free market system. I cannot fathom any of the gas stations not seeing such a perfect opportunity to be of service, cash in and make a profit, from all those potential customers fleeing the coast.

I have to believe that those distribution centers for gasoline; Shell, Chevron, Exxon, Diamond Shamrock and all the others must have future mayors, city councilmen, state legislators or other potential elected officials in positions of gross incompetence. I don’t care if the sky was raining fire and brimstone; those tanker trucks would have been rolling around the clock until a tidal wave swept them off the road in order to keep pace with demand. There were several days of advance warnings as to the severity of the storm along with a measured chance that the entire region might be covered with tidal surge as far inland as 20 miles. What kind of marketing genius could not see that every available gas station along the evacuation corridors didn’t have a spare tanker truck parked where it could refill the underground tanks? It was not the job of local, state or federal officials to take charge of that responsibility, not then and not in the future either.

Maybe, just maybe, some of the profit minded gasoline distributors will come upon this same idea before all those evacuees start back toward the Houston area. They will figure out a way to facilitate a flow of needed gasoline products to the already in place service station outlets along those routes. They might even make a huge profit for having provided those products and at the same time done some good.

We do not have to invent the wheel, that’s already been done. What we need is for folks in a position to make things happen to show leadership by actually doing rather than talking about how much they would like to help. I love old sayings; unfortunately the one that comes to mind is rather crude. “Sh_t or get off the pot!”

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