Study Prompts Update of Virginia Evacuation Plan

March 19, 2008

State agencies are updating Virginia’s hurricane evacuation plan based on the preliminary findings of a federal study that paints a “worst-case scenario.”

The study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began in 2000. It found that more people than previously expected would likely need to evacuate Hampton Roads in the event of a powerful hurricane, especially for a Category 3 or 4 storm.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management said in a news release that the study estimates that approximately 890,000 people could be advised to evacuate the area for a Category 4 storm. Those figures are roughly twice what a 1992 study estimated, which would mean more traffic on roads and a longer evacuation period.

The new numbers are based on a growing population and a new way of measuring potential storm surge. The study uses high tide instead of mean tide as a measure. That adds an additional 2 to 3 feet of potential storm surge per hurricane category.

VDEM said the updated hurricane evacuation plan could feature a new timetable for starting an evacuation to compensate for the increased traffic. The current plan calls for an evacuation order 14 to 24 hours before the onset of tropical storm force winds.

Michael Cline, state coordinator for VDEM, said “people should evacuate when the order comes and know what route they will take. The longer they wait to leave, the longer they will be in traffic.”

According to VDEM, the state has updated its hurricane evacuation plan through the years, but was awaiting the results of this study for a more thorough overhaul.

Cline said any changes to the plan would be in place before prime hurricane season begins in Virginia, which occurs in late August through September.

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