In view of FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina, the mass evacuation in Texas that placed the highway system into grid lock, and the events of 9-11, we need to fully integrate the use of railroads into our response to major disasters. In both cases the prudent use of railroads would have maximized the economy of transportation support in the area of evacuations and the transportation of National Guard troops and emergency supplies. Amtrak was the ideal resource for conducting the required mass evacuations that were called for before and after Hurricane Katrina struck land.
We have witness two major catastrophic events that have taxed both the local and federal government's ability to respond, the 9-11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina. The United States Government does not have the means to provide 100% security from Terrorist attack or the prevention of catastrophic disasters such as an 8.0 earthquake or a Category 5 Hurricane. The most prudent means of ensuring public safety in the event of a massive terrorist attack or disaster is to have the ability to rapidly move national and local assets to the affected area. With the exception of Hurricanes the United States has not had to deal with a major catastrophic disaster or attack on its soil. The events of 9-11 were traumatic but did not overwhelm the community resources like Katrina has done.
The proper utilization of national rail assets such as Amtrak allows from maximum flexibility and conservation of assets during a disaster. Motor vehicle assets are the most flexible, but require a higher level of support in both service and resources. The use of vehicle assets should be focused on the most cumbersome areas of a disaster site, while rail should be used to handle mass movement of personnel and supplies.
If the President is serious about Homeland Security and disaster response then he needs to take a serious look at increasing the amount of equipment and frequency of service that Amtrak provides to our cities. Amtrak is one of our greatest assets in the event of an emergency. We have rails in every major community, but we don't have air strips in every community that can land a 747 or a C-17. If you agree with the principles of ERC then please share, link, like or Google+ this website in support.
As the versatility of a vehicle increases its capacity decreases. The same holds true for transportation corridors, as the allowable maneuverability increases, the capacity per square foot decreases. An example is a jeep. It has the greatest versatility but is limited on the number of passengers it can handle while trains are restricted to the right of way they have considerable capacity.
The ability of a disaster site to support relief efforts is limited to the usable amount or real estate that is available. As the amount of assets arrive on a scene increases so does the amount of support that is required. The law of diminishing returns can easily be demonstrated by using buses at a disaster site as an example. There were over 500 buses used to evacuate the Super Dome in New Orleans. These 500 buses required:
- Fresh drivers
- Billeting for the off shift drivers
- Food and water for the drivers
- Fuel for the buses at the disaster site, alone the evacuation route to Texas and in Texas
- Mechanical support for the buses
- Recovery vehicles and crews for the buses
- Staging areas and parking for the buses
- Use of unobstructed highways
When the buses were used they required logistical support that could have been used for other relief operations. Additionally when all of the buses were committed to driving to the Astro Dome they couldn't be used for other evacuation requirements. The buses were a very versatile asset taken away from the disaster site when a passenger train could have preformed the long haul function more economically.
The ability to rapidly transport people and supplies during a disaster is what saves lives and the community's ability to quickly rebound economically. The use of railroads reduces the strain on other transportation assets such as buses and trucks. Emergency planners can not afford to over look the use of rail and national passenger assets in the event of a disaster. The plan to utilize our rail system needs to be included in disaster plans and practices.