Intelligence Report: Chicago's evacuation plan

August 29, 2011 4:36:59 PM PDT
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is defending his mandatory call to evacuate low-lying neighborhoods Monday afternoon.

More than 370,000 people had to leave their homes because of Hurricane Irene.

In Monday night's Intelligence Report: What kind of evacuation plan does Chicago have in place and who is authorized to activate it? While Chicago isn't likely to be threatened by a hurricane, there are other disasters that could require an evacuation of downtown.

A video prepared a few years ago by Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communication lays out the city's evacuation plan. While many of the city officials in the video are no longer in those positions, the plan remains. The plan was last updated in 2007, and is intended for evacuation of the central business district between Division Street and Roosevelt Road, and Lake Michigan and Halsted Street.

    There are three evacuation levels in Chicago's plan:
  • Level One would be called for a power outage or similar problem where there is no immediate threat to life. It is intended to resemble the homebound rush hour.
  • Level Two would be for a confined emergency such as major gas leak, large fire or explosion. It would require activation of the city's Joint Operations Center on the West Side where public agencies gather to control the evacuation.
  • Level Three would require a large scale downtown evacuation, because of a terrorist attack, scattered explosions such as car bombs or the discovery of an unknown hazardous material that would require evacuees to move to gathering centers outside the danger zone.

"We are just not going to gamble with peoples' lives," Bloomberg said.

Unlike New York City, where the mayor ordered mandatory evacuations last weekend, Chicago's plan states that evacuation authority rests with the governor. It states that the mayor of Chicago may recommend evacuation but that the mayor may not require it.

Regardless of whether the mayor or the governor would implement it, experts say a mandatory evacuation is only as effective as how authorities enforce it.

In New York, thousands of people who were ordered to evacuate did not. No one was dragged out or arrested for violating a mayoral order. The only leverage the city had was telling them that they would be on their own if they stayed behind.

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