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ITS Assists Evacuations in Georgia

Date:
September 17, 2020
Topics:
ITS, Resources

As residents prepare to evacuate when a disaster approaches, they often travel on routes that they are familiar with or use a mapping application to routes that can take them out of harm’s way. Those methods direct many drivers onto the best-known routes such as interstates and some arterial routes. GDOT uses contraflow for 125 miles along I-16 from Savannah to the small city of Dublin, Georgia to manage the additional demand when an evacuation event occurs.[i] However, bottlenecks and pinch points are inevitable where contraflow ends and around the state.[ii] GDOT uses ITS as part of its tools to support safe and efficient evacuations.[iii]

Project Purposes

GDOT has deployed ITS investments throughout the state including closed circuit televisions (CCTV) and dynamic message signs (DMS) that provide beneficial information to transportation professionals and the public for many purposes, including in managing evacuations. Using the CCTV network, staff at GDOT’s Transportation Management Center can observe how those major routes are performing as volumes increase.[iv] Operators of Georgia’s 511 travel information system can also gather information from incoming calls about congestion or incidents.[v] The DMS can display wayfinding messaging to make drivers aware of alternate routes, and the public can find information through 511 by phone or smartphone app.[vi] Several social media feeds also communicate travel information, including Facebook and Twitter accounts for the Georgia 511 program and separate Twitter feeds for regions of the state and major corridors.[vii]

Text Box: Evacuation routes from the 2019 Hurricane Dorian are indicated on this map. 
Image courtesy GDOT.
Evacuation routes from the 2019 Hurricane Dorian are indicated on this map.
Image courtesy GDOT.

The ITS network supporting evacuations must cover a significant area since Georgia regularly sees the impacts of hurricanes and tropical storms coming from the state’s Atlantic coast or across the panhandle of Florida from the Gulf of Mexico in addition to other major events that may occur around the state. Through the 511 website, called the NaviGAtor, the public can view information on hurricane evacuation routes from the eastern and southern edges of the state, which is helpful for pre-planning potential routes during blue-sky periods or providing information when an evacuation occurs.[viii] Maps, such as the image below, show the routes designated as hurricane evacuation routes and can help travelers become familiar with alternatives to the interstates.

Emily Dwyer, GDOT ITS Supervisor, says that because southern Georgia is predominantly rural, travelers evacuating from Florida or elsewhere might not be familiar with those alternate routes, and the information provided by ITS is especially important.  GDOT regularly invests in upgrades and expansions to the system, including improvements that have allowed real-time or near real-time traffic information to be shared through the NaviGAtor in many locations throughout the state. In the future, GDOT plans to expand its ITS assets in more locations in southern Georgia to support those evacuations and special events as well as other uses, since there currently are not many CCTVs deployed in the area to assist with managing those high traffic events. Dwyer says, “If there will be a lot of cars moving through that area, we want to be able to keep an eye on things and know what’s going on. There currently isn’t as much data available to back up the operational decisions made in those areas.” Prioritizing where to deploy new resources is important to stay within budget constraints, Dwyer adds, “We can identify interchanges or other areas that would be of highest concern.”

Outcomes

Dwyer emphasizes that partnerships are essential to GDOT’s work. News media is one area where the agency has worked to build and maintain relationships. “We take stories to them, and we want them to get the most accurate information from us,” Dwyer notes of the symbiotic relationship that is put to use to communicate information not just about hurricanes and evacuations, but also major projects that have an impact on travel.[ix] 

Local government partnerships are also critical to GDOT’s work. GDOT provides access to its 511 NaviGAtor to local governments, which can use it on their own server or access the information on GDOT’s server. “As the local jurisdictions want to use it, they are able to pull up those cameras and the data and see what’s going on.” In addition to ITS assets providing data to support GDOT’s decision making processes about transportation management or future resource deployment, the agency prioritizes local access and cooperative relationships. “If the locals who are making decisions that affect a community can’t use [the camera network], then a key piece is missing. They know the [road] systems, breakdowns, and likely failure points. We are better at deploying our resources if we are working closely with them and ask what their needs are,” Dwyer emphasizes.[x]

Resources

GDOT’s support for safe and efficient evacuations includes a mix of investments in assets such as the state’s 511 system, DMS, and CCTVs that are incorporated into the agency’s budget on an ongoing basis. However, an important aspect of managing evacuations—close communication with external partners—is embedded in the agency’s everyday operations.  This includes ongoing outreach to news media who can help to spread the word about the need to evacuate and safe routes to do so. Having close relationships with local governments, who manage their own infrastructure and have regular communication with residents and stakeholders, is also important for GDOT.


[i] GDOT (nd). Hurricane, http://www.dot.ga.gov/DS/Emergency/Hurricane

[ii] GDOT (nd). Hurricane Information – Contra-Flow Lanes: The I-16 One-Way User’s Guide, http://www.511ga.org

[iii] Personal communication with Emily Dwyer, September 2019

[iv] Personal communication with Emily Dwyer, September 2019

[v] Wells, Bill (2016). Transportation Management Center, Georgia Intelligent Transportation Society, www.itsga.org/transportation-management-center

[vi] GDOT (nd). 511: FAQs, http://www.511ga.org

[vii] GDOT (nd). General Information: Twitter Feeds for Traffic Alerts, http://www.511ga.org

[viii] GDOT (nd). Hurricane Information: Evacuation Routes, http://www.511ga.org

[ix] Personal communication with Emily Dwyer, September 2019

[x] Personal communication with Emily Dwyer, September 2019

This report was delivered to the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2020. It was primarily authored by NADO Program Manager Rachel Beyerle and NADO Associate Director Carrie Kissel. Many transportation agency staff and others assisted with this project in a variety of ways. We offer deep and heartfelt thanks to all the individuals who have provided information and images, consented to be interviewed, and offered editorial guidance in support of this research. This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation under requisition number HOIT190194PR. Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. DOT or the NADO Research Foundation.