STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) - State homeland security officials have
begun the daunting task of developing an evacuation plan to move
large numbers of people along Connecticut's already-congested
commuter routes if there is another major terrorist attack or
natural disaster in New York City.
"We're looking for evacuation plans maybe for a chemical or
biological attack when everybody has to leave the city," said
Connecticut Homeland Security Director Vincent J. DeRosa. "It's a
huge undertaking."
But even on routine days traffic congestion is severe in
Fairfield County, which borders New York. Traffic would quickly
bottleneck if a major catastrophe hit New York, making it difficult
for people to get in or out of the city, DeRosa said.
"The congestion issue is the reason we need to have a plan,"
DeRosa said. "That is the reason we need to come up with a
strategy for a mass evacuation. I'm looking for a plan as quickly
as we can."
One option would be to close all ramps on a major highway, such
as Interstate 95, and make traffic one-way headed north, DeRosa
said. Another highway, such as the Merrit Parkway, could be used
for southbound traffic and emergency vehicles heading into New
York, he said.
DeRosa said officials haven't determined if that would be
feasible, and said planning, which will be done with officials in
New York and New Jersey, has just begun.
"These are all issues that need to be looked at," DeRosa said.
"This is really a plan that is in its infancy. This is going to be
a long and extensive process."
The plan will include coordinated traffic management for any
type of man-made or natural disaster, ranging from a major fire to
the release of radiation or the outbreak of an infectious disease.
It also will be designed to reduce the potential for injuries and
property damage.
They will study daily traffic counts, identify fuel depots and
the number of parking spaces at each train station, and determine
whether additional train cars would be needed. They also will look
at the use of ferries to bring people across Long Island Sound and
identify medical facilities to treat injuries.
Donald Petri, a program manager with the state Division of
Homeland Security who is working on the initiative, said he hopes
to have a conceptual plan ready for review by September.
"It's an all encompassing effort that is taking place," Petri
said. "This is bringing about a level of coordination that
heretofore has not existed."
Developing a traffic management plan will be challenging because
the rush hour on I-95 has expanded to as much as five to six hours
per day, said Melissa Leigh, a regional planner who began supplying
data last week for the new plan. The highway had an average of
about 150,000 vehicles per day in 2000, more than double the amount
in the early 1980s, and the volume is projected to grow another 20
percent by 2020, Leigh said.
But she also noted the region has well developed mass transit.
"I think it's great the state is taking a lead," Leigh said.
"Everybody wants to know any sort of evacuation is going to happen
on an orderly basis."
Local officials also welcomed the initiative.
"I feel it's very important and very needed," said Greenwich
First Selectman Richard Bergstresser. "It's a constant concern of
ours. We are the first community to be affected if anything happens
in New York City."
Connecticut has had a series of evacuation plans over the years,
but earlier efforts tended to focus on responding to specific
disasters such as a hurricane with coastal flooding, Petri said.
The new plan would incorporate a mass evacuation from New York
to Connecticut or an evacuation out of Connecticut, depending on
where a disaster occurred, he said. It will also include plans to
recover from any disaster.
"The objective here is to bring about a level of confidence
that says we are planning and we're going to be in control to the
extent we can be in control," Petri said. "There is a need to go
back and look at what has been done in the past, strengthen it and
make it relevant for today's conditions."
Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy said he's happy ideas such as the
one-way highway concept are getting a closer look.
"You're planning for an event that never happens," Malloy
said. "You can think out of the box or maybe over the edge."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)