Major cities like Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles are unprepared for storms, floods, wildfires and other disasters and will struggle to evacuate people for an incoming weather hazard, researchers say.
Florida Atlantic University experts say many mayors are ignoring the lessons of Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy and other urban tragedies and are urging residents of ill-prepared cities to come up with their own exit strategies.
At the top of the list of embarrassments are Detroit, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Chicago and LA, which either lack an evacuation strategy or have a “secret plan,” which experts say is of little help in helping those in a hurry.
City planner John Renne also issued a warning to residents of Honolulu, Colorado Springs, El Paso, San Antonio, Memphis and Indianapolis after he judged those cities’ evacuation plans as weak.
“To the mayors of these cities, I say there is no excuse for not having a plan, and federal resources are available to help you make one,” Renee told DailyMail.com.
Florida Atlantic University urban planners rated major U.S. cities on their published evacuation plans, and Detroit, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles fell short.
A fire fighting helicopter drops water over a wildfire near the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California, in May 2022. Researchers say LA isn’t ready for mass evacuation in case of larger wildfire
“People who live in those cities should demand more from their officials and have their own personal plan, especially if they look out for an elderly parent or someone else who can’t drive.”
Unlike the classic evacuation scene of jammed highways in many disaster movies, Renne says motorists can typically find their way to safety when a hurricane is on the way.
“Of course that doesn’t mean it will be easy and there won’t be any traffic,” he added.
Florida Atlantic University urban planning expert John Renne says too few mayors have learned the lessons of Hurricane Katrina
He focuses on the estimated 25 percent of city dwellers who would otherwise be left behind — the poor, the elderly, carless, unaccompanied children, the homeless, tourists and those with certain conditions, such as blindness.
He reviewed plans — or lack thereof — in America’s 50 largest cities released between 2010 and the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cities were scored on whether officials kept records of people with special needs, had specialized vehicles and arranged pickup points, or had a plan to evacuate crowds of pedestrians — as was required in New York City after the 9/11 attacks.
Seven “model” cities were ranked with strong plans — Charlotte, North Carolina, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Miami, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia — some of which learned from mistakes from past disasters.
The study, published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, said there has been widespread “lack of preparedness” and “only marginal improvements” since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.
That storm left 80 percent of the city of Louisiana under water, displaced 130,000 residents, claimed 1,500 lives and caused political embarrassment to the White House and emergency services over a slow and confused response.
Many of today’s cities with flimsy or nonexistent plans may suffer from “complaint,” as they often had little histories of floods, wildfires and hurricanes, Renee said. Still, climate change is shifting the calculus.
Unaccompanied children, the poor, the elderly, the homeless and tourists and people without a car have the most difficulty getting out of the city. Pictured: Children hit by flooding in Minneapolis in 2014
“We’re seeing wildfires popping up in places we never expected. Suddenly we go from drought to flooding overnight,” said Renee, author of more than 100 research papers.
“Disasters can now happen anywhere, anytime because of the unpredictable patterns in our weather.”
Its report was released at the start of an unusually calm Atlantic hurricane season, with not a single storm since early July. Still, forecasters predict that the season will have above-average storms and rainfall overall.
The Red Cross warned this month of “more frequent and intense weather events” and urged Americans to prepare for the worst. Last year, 40 percent of the country — some 130 million people — lived in provinces hit by a climate catastrophe.
Already this summer, deadly floods in Kentucky and Missouri, fast-moving wildfires in California and multiple heatwaves across the country are clear examples of how intense climate-related disasters are occurring,” the group warned.
A helicopter rescues a man who was stranded on a truck in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1983. The gambling center still does not have an adequate evacuation plan, according to investigators
Transport workers will remove the floodwater from Las Vegas in July 2022. Investigators say Nevada gambling hub lacks a sufficient plan to evacuate the carless in the event of a more severe weather emergency