Author Archive

A Comparison of Hurricane Isaac’s Track and Historical Hurricane Katrina Track

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Author: Eston Spain, GIS Analyst & Emergency Planning Associate, IEM

As Hurricane Isaac approaches the Gulf Coast today, the track Isaac is taking is eerily similar to the track Katrina took seven years ago at this same time. Although Isaac is not nearly as strong or expected to cause the extent of damage that Katrina did, many Gulf Coast cities are ordering evacuations. I wanted to see just how close the tracks of the two storms are, so I overlayed Isaac’s track with the historical track Katrina took in 2005. Isaac is expected to hit the Gulf Coast within hours of the seventh anniversary of Katrina.

>Hurricane Isaac and Hurricane Katrina Track Comparison

Hurricane Isaac and Hurricane Katrina Track Comparison

This map depicts the forecasted track of Hurricane Isaac and the historical track that Hurricane Katrina took seven years ago almost to the exact date and time. They are approximately 12 hours apart. The lines indicate the center track of each tropical cyclone and where Isaac is forecast to be as it makes landfall. As you can see from the map, Isaac is expected to make landfall at almost the same spot Katrina did. (more…)

Wildfire, Emergency Response, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory

Friday, July 1st, 2011

By Eston D. Spain, associate emergency planner, IEM

Natural disasters such as the earthquake and tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daichii nuclear-power plant, flooding at the Fort Calhoun and Cooper Nuclear Stations in Nebraska, and the Las Conchas wildfire outside of the Los Alamos National Laboratory remind us of the importance of emergency planning.

The wildfire outside of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) poses a threat, but state and local emergency response officials with years of wildfire experience and proven fire mitigation methods are on top of the situation. According to the InciWeb incident information system, firefighters began setting “back burns” on the west side of New Mexico State Route 501 as the fire was approaching the western boundary of LANL on Wednesday morning, June 29th. Those operations were declared complete by evening. The back burns were intended to remove available fuel from the Las Conchas Fire, which has consumed more than 60,000 acres on two sides of the 37-square-mile LANL site but scorched only one acre of Lab property itself.

Located in northern New Mexico about 35 miles (40 minutes drive) northwest of Santa Fe, the Laboratory has more than 1,800 buildings spread across 36 square miles; the facilities support research in some 50 different disciplines. According to Manny L’Esperance, Fire Safety Officer at LANL, “Los Alamos [is] landlocked atop mesas and surrounded by thousands of acres of forest—much of it dry and brittle—[it] is prime fire hazard territory.“

Wildfires are nothing new to LANL. Fire threats over the past 60 years include the 43,000-acre Cerro Grande fire that entered the town site and destroyed more than 400 homes in May 2000. Other significant fires occurred in 1996, 1977, and 1954.  As a result of these threats, the Los Alamos County Long-Term Recovery, Redevelopment, and Hazard Mitigation Plan was developed in 2001. This document identified a fuels modification program for unburned county lands as the highest priority item. Following the plan’s recommendations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided a grant to Los Alamos County for the es­tablishment of a fuel mitigation project. The FEMA grant enabled the County to immediately begin fuel reduction, treating a larger land area at a faster pace than it could have other­wise. This sort of awareness is critical in emergency preparedness planning. The County of Los Alamos and the LANL recognized that wildfire is always a threat. Through modeling and research, and by trial and error, the Los Alamos area is better prepared for their most likely hazard – wildfires. (more…)

Disaster Commodity Donation to Alabama from Japan

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Report from the Field: Maxwell AFB, ISB, Alabama Tornado Disaster, DR – 1971

Author: Eston Spain, Emergency Planning Associate, IEM

Figure 1 Before the media event, Kye took time to pose for a few candid pictures with me in front of some of the goods donated by the people of Japan.

After the recent tornado disaster in Alabama, IEM supported federal disaster logistics operations as a member of the disaster response teams stationed at Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, AL, ISB (Incident Support Base). The process during this mission involved tracking over 500, 53 foot semi-trailer loads of relief goods, such as water, MREs, ice, and tarps. As part of the mission, at a local trucking facility near Maxwell AFB emergency relief supplies to support the response efforts were cross-docked from private carriers to DHS/FEMA trailers. Two of the private carrier trailers loaded with emergency relief supplies from Japan were backed into the dock and being unloaded. A representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, Mr. Keiichiro Nakazawa, Chief Representative for the Washington, DC based agency was on hand to oversee the transfer of donated goods from the people of Japan to the people of Alabama who had suffered from devastating tornadoes on April 27th. Kye, as he prefers to go by, said, “Japan was grateful for the outpouring of relief efforts and compassion shown by the United States,” referring to their recent earthquake and tsunami disasters and the subsequent radiation release. We discussed how the relief efforts demonstrated by both nations are seen as positive goodwill gestures, and how that in times such as these, despite our cultural and geographic differences, we are all we are all human beings who may need help from their neighbors and friends from time to time. Mr. Nakazwa arrived ahead of another member of the Japanese delegation, Mr. Takuji Hanatani, Consul General of Japan in Atlanta, GA, who was there to officially present the donations to the State of Alabama. (more…)

Photos and commentary from the Mississippi Tornadoes April 2011

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Author: Eston Spain, Emergency Planning Associate, IEM

The following photos were taken during a recent deployment to Mississippi. IEM team members ventured into the storm damaged areas and often meeting with the people who were directly affected by the twisters.  The pictures below capture some of the tornado’s fury and devastating power in what the storms of late April brought to Mississippi and left in their wake.

One of the first things we noticed as we entered the storm ravaged counties was the trees. At first the drive seemed scenic and relaxing as we headed south on the Natchez Trace Parkway…

Natchez Trace in Choctaw County, MS

Natchez Trace in Choctaw County, missed by the recent tornadoes.

Tornadoes had crossed this part of the Natchez Trace Parkway. The forests along the parkway were virtually obliterated by the force of the winds and flying debris.

Tornado damage on Natchez Trace in Mississippi


Pets and Companion Animals: When You Can’t Evacuate All of Them

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Author: Eston Spain, Emergency Planning Associate, IEM

There is much discussion about pet or companion animal limits. Some states and local jurisdictions have set limits on the number of animals that a person can legally own.  The general consensus is that laws of this nature were enacted to prevent hoarding, enabling “puppy mills,” and other sorts of nuisance complaints where pets and companion animals are involved. While I believe that a responsible pet owner loves and care for their animals and abides by local laws, spays and neuters, and sees to the health and well being of their pets because their animals are considered part of their family, there are others who do not consider an animal’s interest when it comes time to evacuate.

The one element that is central to any argument for or against companion animal limits is the owner.  And one of the issues that I believe must be considered, regardless of how many pets or companion animals a person may have, is can all these animals be safely evacuated if a natural or man-made hazard or disaster occurs that forces an evacuation. Can the pet owner safely evacuate one companion animal; provide enough food, water, pet carrier, additional supplies, such as litter, meds, bedding, etc.? (more…)

The New Orleans City Assisted Evacuation Plan (CAEP) and how it can be improved

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Author: Eston Spain, Emergency Planning Associate, IEM

I recently indicated in a previous posting that the New Orleans City Assisted Evacuation Plan (CAEP) was very useful in helping some of the City’s residents (approximately 20,000) in evacuating for Hurricane Gustav. But, like any good plan, as effective as the CAEP has become, it should be updated to reflect any changes or problems encountered in the earlier version.

Bus shelter with route map. Courtesy of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority

As a suggestion, these updates could include: bus evacuation, route information, and the map updated to reflect the changes. I determined that for each evacuation center, an evacuation route could be identified using GIS. Furthermore, bus stop kiosks and bus stop shelter walls are ideal locations for placing mass transit and city-assisted evacuation information, such as maps, evacuation shelters serviced by a particular route, and evacuation shelter locations. Bus route maps located at bus stop shelters are convenient to mass transit commuters and way-finders in a large metropolitan city.  These maps can display route specific information, such as streets serviced or located along a route; or display the route as an overlay in a large scale map that covers a greater area, such as a city.  The larger scale maps often include multiple bus routes, highways, main and secondary streets, as well as certain geographic and topographic information. The downside to this type of map, as opposed to route specific maps, is that the more information displayed, the more complicated the map becomes, thus the more difficult to read and less likely that one can find the information needed (let alone the bus desired). But, this is not always the case, even though New Orleans does not have maps at their bus stop shelters. Perhaps some examples would help to demonstrate why maps are important features for bus stop shelters. (more…)

A Lesson Learned from Katrina? The New Orleans City Assisted Evacuation Plan

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Author: Eston Spain, Emergency Planner, IEM

A few years ago, I witnessed and lived through the before and after of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath.  I saw the problems in evacuating from New Orleans. I was greatly relieved when the City of New Orleans released the City Assisted Evacuation Plan. These are my observations and recommendations about their plan.

As frightful and nerve wracking as it is waiting for a hurricane to make landfall, it can be even more dreadful if you don’t have the means to evacuate.  Maybe it’s because you thought how chic it would be to give up your car and commute everyday to your job via one of the lovely streetcars that New Orleans is famous for. Unfortunately, though, there are others who simply lack the financial means, or for other reasons cannot evacuate on their own. 

In 2008, the City of New Orleans created the City Assisted Evacuation Plan (CAEP) to make sure that the city’s most vulnerable citizens have a way to evacuate. The purpose of the CAEP is to help citizens who want to leave during an emergency, but lack the capability to self-evacuate.[1] The general concept of the plan is that the city utilizes its facilities, manpower, and other resources to provide assistance to citizens who cannot self-evacuate during the declaration of an emergency. The CAEP is available online from the City of New Orleans’ website ( The CAEP comes with an evacuation map as part of the evacuation plan and a flow chart to explain how the process works. The map depicted in the CAEP lists 17 evacuation centers; all serviced by the New Orleans Regional Transportation Authority (NORTA or RTA) buses. (more…)