DOTD earns top national award for Katrina evacuation
Tuesday, November 14, 2006 at 12:00:00 AM

Agency also recognized for innovative Process Improvement Initiative


NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) picked up two national awards Tuesday, including a Gold Award for its evacuation operations that helped more than 1 million people leave the New Orleans area before Hurricane Katrina struck.

The National Partnership for Highway Quality (NPHQ), a group of government and private industry transportation leaders, announced the awards Tuesday during the NPHQ’s national meeting at The Hilton in downtown New Orleans.

“This prestigious award from the NPHQ recognizes the success of the Katrina evacuation,” DOTD Secretary Johnny B. Bradberry said. “DOTD employees saved thousands of lives by developing and executing an excellent evacuation plan that has become a national model.”

DOTD took home a Gold Award in the Partnering category for its evacuation plan and a Bronze Award in the Risk Taking category for its agencywide process improvement program.

In 2004, Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco ordered DOTD and Louisiana State Police to develop a new evacuation plan because the old plan did not perform well during the Hurricane Ivan evacuation. Gov. Blanco wanted a plan that would cut down on congestion and make better use of the interstates in Southeast Louisiana.

By June 1, 2005, the new plan was rolled out. DOTD and its partners printed more than 1 million contraflow maps and developed and executed an extensive public education campaign to make citizens aware of the new plan.

In its announcement of the awards, the NPHQ said DOTD and the State Police applied lessons learned from the Ivan evacuation in drafting a new plan in 2005. “By the time Hurricane Katrina emerged as a threat, the new evacuation plan was executed, and the results were amazing,” the NPHQ said.

Among the changes made were elimination of traffic chokepoints, initiation of phased evacuation, creation of a joint 24/7 Traffic Control Center, improved signage and improved communication with the public. 

The new plan uses 11 traffic lanes instead of eight and has only one chokepoint instead of three. The new plan evacuates citizens in phases. For example, Phase 1 focuses on evacuating citizens from the most vulnerable coastal areas before evacuations in other areas are announced.

The new plan was put to the test Aug. 27, 2005, when contraflow was implemented to speed up the evacuation of Southeast Louisiana as Katrina bore down on the coast. The NPHQ noted that:

  • Evacuation by contraflow during Katrina was faster and more efficient than the Ivan evacuation. Instead of a 72-hour timeline, contraflow was executed within a six-hour projected landfall window, and a two-thirds increase in traffic volume on the road was achieved – 20,000 vehicles per hour versus 12,000 during Ivan.
  • Real-time traffic information was provided through the Traffic Control Center every 30 minutes to the media and to other gulf states.
  • During the 25 hours that contraflow operated, more than 1 million people were evacuated.

The Gold Award was given to DOTD in the “Partnering” category because of DOTD’s leadership in working with other evacuation task force members, including State Police, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, and the New Orleans and Baton Rouge American Red Cross chapters. The state also consulted with Mississippi transportation officials.

DOTD also won a bronze in the Risk Taking category for its agencywide change-management program. The goal of the program is to streamline existing processes and improve effectiveness and efficiency.

In October 2004, DOTD started its process improvement initiative, a program that brings together groups of employees and other stakeholders in specific DOTD processes and allows them to suggest changes that result in better productivity. To institutionalize the initiative, DOTD created a small change-management group that oversees the process and looks for new challenges within DOTD to make further improvements.



Note to media: DOTD will accept the award during a luncheon Tuesday at The Hilton Hotel in downtown New Orleans. For interviews and information, please contact DOTD Communications Director Mark Lambert at 225-937-8113.