There's a lot of talk of evacuation right now in light of the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene. The city has already released a map of evacuation zones and evacuated the "most vulnerable" -- people in hospitals, people in nursing homes, and so on. But what does it actually mean if you're evacuated? Where are you supposed to go, and how are you supposed to get there, especially if the MTA has suspended all service? And how are you supposed to find out, given that all nyc.gov websites are currently down as of this posting?
Unfortunately, there really isn't much info about this. Despite the fact that in a worst-case scenario the storm could cause billions of dollars in damage and that NYC could experience huge storm surges and flooding, the public has been given very little information about the protocol for evacuation.
The last document we could find that referenced a specific weather-related evacuation plan for New York City is from 2005, post-Katrina. It's a report by the New York State Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions that describes the way the city would respond to a serious weather emergency à la Hurricane Irene.
Basically, NYC is divided into 23 "solar systems." Each of them contains a "reception center" and shelters for people who can't stay with a family member or friend outside of an evacuation zone. If you are seeking shelter in a city emergency shelter, you must report to a reception center first. Do people know about the reception centers? We certainly didn't. "There is little or no information available about whether people know of this requirement, or whether they will proceed directly to shelters, or how they are to be informed," according to the report.
But how are you supposed to get to a reception center? Some of the reception centers aren't even reachable by public transportation.
Not all receptions centers are available by public transportation, furthermore bus and subway routes may be disrupted due to flooding or storm surges. According to the OEM NYC Hurricane Evacuation Zones map, there are three reception centers that are not accessible by public transportation, five reception centers that are accessible by bus or car only, one reception center is accessible by subway or car only, and 14 reception centers which can not accommodate parking.
And this could all be a moot point anyway, since it looks possible or probable that the MTA will suspend all service. How will you find updated information? Good luck trying any nyc.gov website -- they're all down, but you can still access the evacuation map here.
We've called the Office of Emergency Management multiple times and left messages, and haven't been able to speak with anyone.
Update 12:16 p.m.: Although we still haven't heard from OEM, we did speak to Richard Brodsky, the chairman of the committee who authored the report. He said that while the city has made some small updates to its evacuation plan since his report came out in 2005, "what they haven't fixed is the fundamental problem -- that they really don't have the transit capacity" to deal with a large-scale evacuation.
Brodsky also noted that the reception center system is a big problem: "You could be next door to a shelter and have to schlep ten blocks to a reception center, only to be sent back to the shelter," he said. There are two "mega-problems" inherent in the evacuation process, he said: "One, it's heavily dependent on mass transit, but the transit system will have to shut down well before you'd need an evacuation. Two, there's this bizarre reception center system."
"In the end, it's not an evacuable city," he said.
Related: the Office of Emergency Management has alerted New Yorkers to have supplies ready for 72 hours.