Evacuating 40,000 people takes practice

In the case of a mandatory evacuation for a disaster, 40,000 residents in New Orleans would need help getting out of harm's way. It would be one of the largest public evacuations in the United States. And, it would need a lot of practice to get it right.

The City of New Orleans wants to get it right. So, the city held an assisted evacuation exercise today (May 17).

Hundreds of volunteers arrived by bus at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, simulating the throngs of people that would come needing assistance if it were the real thing. And city, state, federal, and non-profit emergency workers and volunteers were there to check them in and get them onto another bus and off to a shelter. The city got some help, too, from a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"After Katrina, it was about no clear command and control, no coordination, no communication. This changed that entire effort," says Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

The last time the city had to activate an assisted evacuation was before Hurricane Gustav in 2008. The mayor says a category 3 hurricane this summer could force the city to call for another mandatory evacuation.

The mayor said the city is ready to help. But, residents need to take some personal responsibility, too, and make an evacuation plan. Residents who need help evacuating for medical or mobility reasons can sign up at ready.nola.gov. There is also a link for special assistance for residents who can not make it to one of the 17 pickup spots around the city.

The mayor says around 4,400 people have registered.