Watching the TV cameras on cable channels of Houston freeways an obvious question strikes me: Why not have the police control and shut down freeway on-ramps? Then evacuation traffic would not get so heavy that the speeds go down to a crawl. What has been the average speed of the cars on the highways out of Houston? 1 mph.
As traffic levels rises total vehicle miles driven per hour rises. But at some point total vehicle miles driven actually drops. Put more cars on the roads and total vehicle miles declines. It becomes counterproductive to put more cars onto highways. If car entry onto roads is restricted then the existing cars would get out of the way more quickly by driving to where they are headed more rapidly.
The Texas police made a big mistake by not closing down a lot of on-ramps as soon as traffic started to slow.
Another point: If the police would have asserted control over on-ramps they could have given preference to vehicles that have more passengers. This would have provided incentive for people to evacuate neighbors without cars, people from old folks homes, and others.
Also, once the inbound lanes were shifted to outbound directions entry onto the switched direction lanes could have been reserved for buses and cars that carry many people.
Some ideas are coming to me that would have been helpful to implement in advance of Katrina coming on shore. They are worth bearing in mind next time high crime rate city with a large lower class is about to get walloped by a foreseeable natural catastrophe.
Use the in-bound stretches of the final couple of days commercial flights to a city in the path of disaster to bring in military police, electric generators, water distillery machines, food, weapons, ammo, and some other stuff. There are places in New Orleans that could be expected to survive even a Cat 5 hurricane. So the MPs could come in with enough supplies to support themselves for a week and survive the passage of the hurricane. To make this work MPs would need to be mobilizable in that short period of time before the catastrophe is known to be about to happen.
Bring in armored personnel carriers with lots of supplies in their guts. I figure APCs can ride out a cat 5 hurricane, especially if parked next to a structure that can survive a cat 5 hurricane.
When a city is known to lack the cognitive resources in its government to organize something so basic as the driving of a couple hundred school buses to evacuate the lowest classes then plans must be made to compensate for this. Have people chosen in advance from surrounding and more civilized areas to serve as volunteers to come in and drive the buses. Get police or MPs to ride shotgun on the evacuations to maintain order on the buses.
The military should have helicopter-liftable electric generators to put onto the roofs of hospitals to take over when the power fails. Apparently this is too much to expect to be done by the administrators of hospitals, especially in decayed cities.
Doctors and nurses in areas with high crime rates and big lower classes should be issued pistols (or encouraged to buy their own and get training) in advance of a hurricane or other natural disaster so that they can defend their institutions.
Send in special forces - especially Navy SEALs who are trained to operate in water environments - in advance of a hurricane and immediately after a hurricance with orders to hunt down and kill or capture (with large amounts of discretion to decide which choice is feasible) the most dangerous armed gangs.
Pull all the weapons and ammo out of stores (e.g. Wal-Mart) and carry the weapons out of the target area before the stores get closed.
Build storage structures near major cities that can survive hurricanes and even nearby nuclear blasts and stock those structures with electric generators, fuel, and other supplies a military force could draw on so that a military force can move in more quickly after a disaster.
When a state governor is too slow to ask for National Guard from other states then the national government (assuming it is competent - not always the case and not the case now) needs to step in and order lots of regular military in quickly.
Pass laws to allow authorities to round up all who have felony conviction records to put them in preventive detention.
During evacuations separate the likely predators from the likely prey. For example, don't put young black males into the same refugee facilities as children or old folks.
The federal government should have hundreds of satellite phones with embedded GPS waiting to be distributed in case of emergency. Hospitals and other key locations should have reliable communications during and after the disaster.
Methods to set up temporary cellular towers with perhaps microwave relay towers should be developed so that at least in some limited number of areas some cellular service could be restored rapidly.
Airports should have something akin to bomb shelters where airport recovery workers and air traffic controllers and crucial equipment could ride out the hurricance or other disaster. Then an airport could get back on line more rapidly starting immedately after the storm passes.
One major theme here is that the civil society problem is one key problem that must be addressed. In segments of populations which have little in the way of a civil society (e.g. much of the black lower class) other more together populations nearby need to know to step in and bring their more civilizing influences and basic skills to see that basic things get done. But in order to do that well we have to become a more honest nation and admit to the nature of the threats we face from some segments of our population. If we can't be that honest then lots of rape, murder and mayhem await the next perfect storm to hit an urban area which has a big dangerous lower class.
Another major theme is hardware and structures. We need to address how equipment could get prepositioned and protected to better restore various functions after disasters. We also need better ways to bring stuff in rapidly.
Car accidents on highways cause huge traffic snarls even if the wrecked vehicles are not blocking traffic. Why? because people slow down to look at the cars and people and mess on the road hoping they will see something gory and interesting. They want to know what happened. Well how about a simple solution: The highway patrol cars ought to have extendable metal poles and big thin sheets of fabric that allow them to very rapidly put draping around the accident area so that passing vehicles will not see anything to slow down to look at. Take away the ability to look and people will not slow down as much. Traffic flows will be less disrupted by accidents.
Anyone ever seen this done? It seems like an obvious enough idea that I figure I can't be the first person to think of it.
It might take a special vehicle to bring the draping materials to set up the covering. But ambulances are dispatched and additional patrol cars are dispatched to major road accidents on busy freeways and highways. So a pick-up truck could be dispatched to any accident scene that is going to take some time to clean up.
This seems like a pretty cheap idea to try. Poles designed for camping or even for roadside construction could be used. The draping should be high enough to obscure the view even if there is a hill and cars are coming down the hill. So it might need to be 10 or 15 or 20 feet tall. Obviously the needs would differ depending on the terrain. But at least in some terrain the needed height would be manageable.
One problem would be wind. In areas where there is a lot of wind there would be a need for heavier poles and wider and heavier ground footprints on the poles.