If you’re in the middle of a violent thunderstorm, or for that matter an ice storm, blizzard, nor’easter, tornado, or hurricane, you’re not going to get far on foot. You’re also unlikely to get far in a vehicle. Unless you’re in immediate danger, take shelter and hang on tight until conditions improve. It’s only sensible.
Some of you asked gently (but cluelessly) why all the car-less poor people just didn’t walk out of New Orleans when they heard the bad weather was coming … and bless your hearts. If I seriously need to explain the logistics of that to you, what a precious and sheltered life you must lead.
Perhaps an object lesson is in order: I’d like to take you, all of you “walking escape” advocates, into a dense urban area in the middle of a thunderstorm … and turn you loose on the street carrying bottled water, some food, your children, your wheelchair-bound grandparents, your pets (if you have any), and tell you to get the hell out of Dodge within the next day or two. And … go! I sure do hope you’re in a superhero state of health, because otherwise you ain’t getting far.
I’d like to address the overall question of walking evacuations, because I spoke in their favor in What we did on our vacation. I was commenting on Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky’s account of being mistreated and effectively imprisoned in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Here’s what I said:
If anyone took that to mean that informal pedestrian skedaddles are a substitute for a comprehensive emergency evacuation plan, they’re much mistaken. And anyone who took it to mean that a refugee who can walk a few blocks unaided must therefore be personally at fault for not having gotten out of a disaster area, has clearly been putting real work into being mistaken.
Until I read this story, it had never once occurred to me that law enforcement might be keeping people from leaving the city on foot. That’s mainly how New York City evacuates when we have a disaster. If you’re prudent, you keep a pair of comfortable walking shoes at the office where you work.* It may take you hours to reach home, or a place with working transit, or just an area that’s less affected by the disaster, but you’ll eventually get there.
Walking out lightens the load on services in the city core. It frees up resources that can be better spent evacuating people who are injured, elderly, frail, or disabled, or who commute long distances by rail. It means everything doesn’t have to go into and out of one small central area. In the case of New Orleans, it would move people who need relief out of the worst-flooded areas, which could only make things easier for everyone.
I may be big on walking as an evacuation strategy, but like all New Yorkers I know it’s not a complete answer. Single parent with one or more little kids? Frail, elderly, disabled, or caretaker for same? No way. This isn’t rocket science. There obviously have to be other means of evacuation.
Walking is for those who can; for those for whom it’s easier than any other means of evacuation; and for those who have no other means of evacuation and are in immediate danger. It’s a natural strategy in New York City, where on weekdays we have godzillions of people working in Manhattan, many of whom live within ten or fifteen miles of their workplace, and we also have a very limited number of routes on and off the island. You can get a couple of thousand pedestrians over a bridge a lot faster than you can move the same number of cars.
However, I’ll argue that walking can be an applicable strategy in areas where things are more spread out. You don’t have to be able to reach your final destination, or even know what it’s going to be, in order to get away from the worst of a disaster. The trick is to get out of the center and into a less-affected zone where there’ll likely be more resources, more options, more information, and fewer refugees. See where you can go from there.
More rules of thumb (mine; others may have better sets):
In a crowded situation, if everyone cooperates, keeps moving, and maintains a calm, orderly flow, you can get lot more traffic through than you can if a few jerks decide to play “it’s me or them” and jam up the flow.And so on and so forth. Like I said, this isn’t rocket science. It’s just a good ground-level strategy.
Non-ambulatory evacuees are the responsibility of first responders, civil authorities, and relief workers. If friends, family, or private commercial transportation can get them out, that’s great, but it’s nothing anyone should count on.
On the other hand, if nobody official is around to move non-ambulatory patients, and it’s urgent that they be moved, accept help from anyone who volunteers, and use anything that rolls.
Those who can walk out on their own, no problem, should assist those who can almost manage it.
If you have time and the plumbing’s working, fill your water bottle(s) before you go, and use the john. If you’re going to be walking a long way and it’s seriously hot outside, consider soaking your shirt or dress with water, then putting it back on.
A cooperative group of pedestrians can carry a lot of weight if they frequently swap out the people doing the carrying. That’s how a lot of wheelchair-bound evacuees got down the fire stairs following the first WTC bombing.
Don’t assume everyone got out until you check. Once you do check, consider putting a sign on the front door of the building to keep other searchers from wasting their time and energy.
If you’ve got a bunch of pedestrians (students at your school, employees at your company) who’re heading off in different directions, take a moment to sort yourselves out into groups of people who are walking in roughly the same direction. That way you can take care of each other. Also, traveling in groups increases the number of people who know who got out and where they went, so they’ll be able to pass on that information later.
You-and-yours should agree in advance on someone in another city with whom you can leave messages in an emergency. It’s often difficult to contact people who’ve gotten hit by the same emergency you have, but if you can both get through to Aunt Minnie in Bangor, she can pass along messages in both directions.
Get help along the way. Give help along the way. Be cheerful and pleasant. Pay attention to the news.