Saturday, September 3, 2005
By Steven L. Taylor

Of the many questions that will need to be answered once the disaster in New Orleans is under control is: why didn’t local officials avail themselves of busses in the city before it was too late?

First, there have been reports that Mayor Nagin was contacted before the storm hit by an official of the National Weather Service, who stated that Katrina was going to be “the big one”–this is what led to the evacuation orders. However, if Nagin believed this information, why did he (or someone in city government) not think to help evacuate the poor and transportation-less?

There were hundreds of school busses and city buses that could have been used.

Second, once the levees broke and the city started to flood, why weren’t at least some of these assets activated? We should readily granted that many of these busses may have been under water, but since it is first and foremost city and county officials who respond to emergencies of this nature, it is a tragedy that no one planned for this event.

For example: JunkYardBlog has some images that clearly show hundreds of school buses that could have easily been deployed to the Superdome and convention center if they had been moved before the flood waters overtook their bus yard.

Bill Hobbs also notes that in addition to the school buses in question, the New Orleans Rapid Transit Authority has, according to 2002 stats, 364 buses.

Further, he notes that the State of Louisiana Emergency Operations Plan Supplement 1A (here in PDF) states the following:

The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating. [emphasis mine]

The same report notes:

Tidal surge, associated with the “worst case” Category 3, 4 or 5 Hurricane Scenario for the Greater New Orleans Metropolitan Area, as determined by the National Weather Service (NWS) Sea, Lake and Overland Surge from Hurricanes (SLOSH) Model, could cause a maximum inundation of 20 feet above sea level in some of the parishes in the Region, not including tidal effects, wind waves and storm rainfall.

Hence, regardless of federal responses, it isn’t is if local officials hadn’t thought about all this in advance.

I will concur that Katrina surprised us all with the way it moved from a minor storm to the storm of the century in dramatic and rapid fashion, but given the potential for catastrophe, it would seem that city leader blew it prior to the storm, and then again once the levees were breached.

Given these facts, it becomes problematic to fully see the righteousness in Nagin’s public anger:

“They don’t have a clue what’s going on down there,” Mayor Ray Nagin told WWL-AM last night.

“Excuse my French — everybody in America — but I am pissed.” (source)


“I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses,” New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said in a television interview Friday morning. “Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get that [expletive] moving to New Orleans … This is a major, major, major deal. I can’t emphasize that enough.” (source)

Indeed, here’s the text of Nagin’s order which directs, with some exceptions,

Unless covered by one of the aforementioned exceptions, every person is hereby ordered to immediately evacuate the City of New Orleans or, if no other alternative is available, to immediately move to one of the facilities within the City that will be designated as refuges of last resort.

This raises two questions: 1) if it was foreseeable, as the order indicates, that some persons could not leave, and given the directives in the State of Louisiana Emergency Operations Plan Supplement 1A noted above, why weren’t school buses, metro buses and other government transportation utilized? and 2) why weren’t the refuges of last resort (the Superdome and convention center) not better equipped (i.e., with supplies and personnel) to deal with the likely displaced persons?

Update: has more on the pre-existing disaster plans.

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14 Responses to “Buses”

  1. Erick Erickson Says:

    Great points! We’ve got something similar here. The mayor, for example, is suppose to order an evacuation 72 hours before a storm, not 24 hours.

    It’s sad.

  2. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    I am willing to cut Nagin slack on timing, as realistically it is awfully hard to know 72 hours ahead of time if a hurricane is going to hit a specif locale–not to mention that 72 prior to landful no one knew that Katrina would be as big as it became.

  3. Jan Says:

    Unfortunately, as you point out, it is impossible to know 72 hours in advance exactly where a storm is going to hit and exactly what it will do. I’m sure that they don’t want to go to the expense and hassle of evacuating EVERYONE if they don’t have to and it is almost impossible to know if it will be necessary.

    Additionally, New Orleans has had exception luck in the past and many people seemed to have built up this irrational belief that their luck would continue to hold out indefinately in that respect. Even after the storm had passed, before the city began to really fill with water, reporters were crediting “New Orleans luck” for what, at that point, seemed like a near miss on “the big one”.

    Even though the NWS told them it was going to be “the big one”, it seems that many were just unwilling to fully internalize and accept the truth of what that really meant. (IMHO)


  4. Henriet Cousin\\\' Says:

    “Cut Nagin slack on timing?” What part of “supposed to” don’t you understand?

  5. Says:

    Why weren’t the buses used?

    Steven Taylor has a long post up on one of the most troubling questions of the local management of the Hurricane Katrina disaster thus far: why didn’t New Orleans use the hundreds of buses within the city to evacuate, forcibly if necessary, the…

  6. Harry Says:

    I started to respond here, but my reply got too long, so I posted it on my blog, and Steven, if you don’t mind, I’ll just post the link:

  7. Henriet Cousin\\\\\\\' Says:

    The information you posted on your blog does not accord with numerous other reports?

    Surely, warning orders to prepare to execute the worst case scenerio would be standing operating procedure, i.e., be prepared, on order, to execute Cat 5 evacuation plan?

  8. Harry Says:

    I started going back through the NOAA advisories and strike probabilities, because frankly I was trying to reconstruct in my mind what was happening when. I was in Chicago as this thing was approaching, trying to figure out when to come home, so I had been watching the path and forecasts, and I thought I remembered it being forecast more to the east, not as strong, and arriving not quite so soon until late Saturday/early Sunday. Maybe I’m reconstructing incorrectly, but it just seems like this thing mushroomed a little late in the game. I’m not calling Mayor Nagin a saint, I’m just pointing out that it didn’t look nearly so clearcut on Friday.

  9. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:


    I concur that the assumption was the storm would be at worst of moderate strength, and that it would likely strike Florida again. As such, I don’t fault the timing of the order by Nagin.

    I do, however, find fault in two ways:

    1) Once the order was given, why were no public assets deployed to aid the poor


    2) (And this one gets me the most), why vehicles weren’t used once the levees were breached before the flood waters overtook them.

  10. Harry Says:

    There’s no doubt that some things could and should have been done better. It’s possible that locating drivers was not possible in the immediate aftermath; buses without drivers aren’t much help. It’s obvious that some effort should have been made. And once again the poor have borne the brunt of a disaster.

  11. Unpaid Punditry Corps Says:

    [...] d questions will have to be answered is epitomized by this pic of flooded school buses and this post by Poliblog’s Dr. Steven Taylor. *And I am certain that outrage over the Bush staged photo-op [...]

  12. bacci40 Says:

    why dont you pass on to your redstaters, that nagin is really a repub, who contributed to bush’s election campaign in 2000

    oh, and while youre at it, why dont you note the 80% cutback of funding the levee project

    from an unnamed source in the epa
    We’re naming it Lake George, ’cause it’s his frickin fault. Have you seen all that data about the levee projects’ funding being cut over the past three years by the Prez, and the funding transferred to Iraq? The levee, as designed, might not have held back the surge from a direct Class 5 hit, but it certainly would not have crumbled on Monday night from saturation and scour erosion following a glancing blow from a Class 3. The failure was in a spot that had just been rebuilt, not yet compacted, not planted, and not armed (hardened with rock/concrete). The project should have been done two years ago, but the federal gov’t diverted 80% of the funding to Iraq. Other areas had settled by a few feet from their design specs, and the money to repair them was diverted to Iraq.
    The NO paper raised hell about this time and again, to no avail. And who will take the blame for it? The Army Corps, because they’re good soldiers and will never contradict the C in C. But Corps has had
    massive budget cuts across all departments (including wetland regulatory) since Bush took office, and now we’ve reaped what was sown. It really pisses me off to see the Corps get used by the Administration to shield Bush — they do great work when they’re funded. This was senseless, useless death caused not by nature but by budget decisions.

  13. Confirm Them » Kennedy Warns Against Stinginess Says:

    [...] plain why you didn’t advise the Democratic Governor of Louisiana to commandeer every school bus in Louisiana to help evacuate New Orleans. Seriously, Instapundit has a great list of ways to help [...]

  14. Fruits and Votes » Blog Archive » Seven Betrayals and Oh, Blackwater Says:

    [...] thing that Steven T. pointedly asked on September 3: Why did the city not make its transit buses available for evacuation? The “hold out” has several other criticisms of the state and local [...]

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