BATON ROUGE, LA — The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has announced its preparations for the 2013 hurricane season, which begins Saturday, June 1.
“The Department is committed to assisting with the evacuation and safety of the traveling public,” said DOTD Secretary Sherri H. LeBas. “Our success during severe weather events is a result of the continued training and readiness of DOTD as a whole.”
Prior to the start of hurricane season, DOTD personnel participate in and conduct state and department-wide hurricane readiness and response exercises, and meet to review and discuss evacuation and contraflow operations.
Recently, DOTD staff participated in a test tornado warning message transmitted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio on March 6, as well as the Rehearsal of Concept (ROC) drill at the National Guard facility in Carville on April 25. Coordinated by the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), ROC is a mock step-by-step hurricane response exercise that involves all Louisiana state agencies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Future efforts in preparation for the 2013 hurricane season include involvement in the MSY (Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport) evacuation exercise scheduled to take place May 29-30. State and federal agencies will participate in a simulated exercise involving the evacuation process using commercial aircrafts.
Additionally, DOTD will conduct the Annual Mississippi/Louisiana Contraflow meeting on May 30 in Hammond, Louisiana. Representatives from DOTD, Louisiana State Police, Mississippi Department of Transportation, Mississippi Highway Patrol, and Florida Highway Patrol will meet to discuss effective operation plans should contraflow be activated.
To maximize response efforts, DOTD has also decentralized many of its response activities to the district level, including vehicle staging areas for emergency evacuation efforts and debris management.
“Based on lessons learned from previous years, we have identified appropriate staging areas throughout the state that will allow for greater flexibility and quicker response for our all-hazards strategy,” said DOTD Assistant Secretary of Operations Rhett Desselle. “Additionally, we continue to decentralize our emergency responsibilities to have trained personnel with local knowledge addressing issues.”
In addition to hurricane preparedness, DOTD has refined its emergency response plans to include response efforts for multiple hazardous threats and the incorporation of emergency operation response preparedness into normal day-to-day operations.
“Emergency preparedness is not limited to hurricane season,” said District 3 Engineer Administrator Bill Oliver. “With the increasing severity of the weather and the possibility of industrial-related emergencies, we have full-time staff dedicated to emergency response preparedness to ensure the safety of the traveling public on and off shore.”
To assist with the safety of industry-related transport, DOTD helps to oversee the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP). LOOP is the nation’s first and largest deep-water facility operating under U.S. and Louisiana licenses. LOOP provides tanker offloading and temporary storage services for crude oil transported on some of the largest tankers in the world. Most tankers offloading at the facility are too large for U.S. inland ports.
Located 18 miles off the coast in 115 feet of water, LOOP handles 10 percent of all crude oil imported to the United States.
In an emergency situation, DOTD is responsible for the transportation of people and critical supplies, as well as public works and engineering functions such as contraflow, debris management, damage assessment, and emergency repairs to the transportation infrastructure.
Since 2005, DOTD has developed a process to assist people without transportation to evacuate risk areas. DOTD also has established a fully equipped Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which includes a call center, an information center, a traffic and transportation team, and a public works and engineering team (lump together). The information center includes stations to monitor weather and all modes of transportation (marine traffic, rail, airports, and highways).
Additionally, DOTD managers remain in frequent contact with parish emergency operation directors throughout the impacted regions, assessing local needs and immediately responding with buses.
If the possibility of heavy rain, tropical storm force winds and flooding is forecasted, DOTD will monitor the roadways for possible flooding, to remove fallen trees from the roadway, and to close any roads as needed.