Order Code RS22235
Updated August 17, 2006
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Disaster Evacuation and Displacement Policy:
Issues for Congress
Specialist in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina reached beyond the borders of the
states directly affected by the wind, rain, and floods. Before the storm reached the coast,
thousands of residents of Louisiana and Mississippi evacuated to other states, including
Texas and Oklahoma. As a result, President Bush issued emergency declarations for 36
states solely to help them meet the needs of evacuees. In general, evacuation policy is
set and enforced by state and local officials. However, federal policy does provide for
certain aspects of civilian emergency evacuation. Members of Congress may elect to
reconsider federal policy options to more fully integrate federal and state authorities
through legislation such as H.R. 3815, H.R. 4066, H.R. 4258, H.R. 5351, S. 1685, S.
1807, S. 2124, S. 2133, and S. 3721. This report will be updated.
Using the authority set out in state laws and local ordinances, state and local
officials may suggest or require the evacuation of residents from homes and communities
before certain catastrophes occur.1 Threats of pending natural disasters such as hurricanes
or floods, warnings of the movement of airborne hazardous material due to transportation
accidents, or the recognition of unstable conditions at nuclear power plants may provide
officials a short window of opportunity to save thousands of lives by encouraging or
mandating civilian evacuation.
To a limited extent, federal statutes authorize agency heads to use federal resources
to assist in the evacuation of civilians. For example, a provision in the Robert T. Stafford
Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act authorizes the President to direct the
Secretary of Defense to use resources to perform necessary emergency work to preserve
State laws generally authorize the Governor to order and enforce the evacuation of residents
under emergency situations. See CRS Report RL32287, Emergency Management and Homeland
Security Statutory Authorities in the States, District of Columbia, and Insular Areas: a Summary,
by Keith Bea, Government and Finance Division, CRS, and L. Cheryl Runyon and Kae M.
Warnock, consultants, p. 4.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
life and property even before the President issues a major disaster or emergency
The complications and suffering associated with Hurricane Katrina demonstrated
that the evacuation and the relocation of tens of thousands of residents pose enormous
challenges for public officials after catastrophes occur. Due to limitations involving
medical, income, or transportation needs, or for other reasons, many did not or could not
heed the warnings. The flooding of New Orleans and the widespread destruction of
infrastructure in Mississippi and Louisiana caused by Hurricane Katrina have resulted in
thousands of persons remaining homeless for many months, and may possibly lead to the
permanent relocation of entire communities.3 The issue before Congress is the scope and
reach of federal policy regarding the evacuation of civilians and their resettlement and the
implementation of that policy in light of the traditional role exercised by state authorities.
In general, federal policy defers to the states to enact laws pertinent to evacuation,
and local officials generally work with state officials to enforce those laws. For example,
the National Response Plan (NRP), administered by the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), sets forth the roles and
responsibilities of federal and certain non-federal entities after catastrophes overwhelm
state or local governments. The NRP includes the following in a list of responsibilities
of local chief executive officers:
Dependent upon state and local law, [the local executive] has extraordinary powers
to suspend local laws and ordinances, such as to establish a curfew, direct
evacuations, and, in coordination with the local health authority, to order a
Federal officials facilitate evacuation procedures when the NRP is invoked, take the lead
on coordinating necessary decisions, support search and rescue efforts, and provide
42 U.S.C. 5170b(c). For background on the Stafford Act and presidential declaration authority,
see CRS Report RL33053, Federal Stafford Act Disaster Assistance: Presidential Declarations,
Eligible Activities, and Funding, by Keith Bea.
Comprehensive or official statistics on the number of evacuees are not available. Weeks after
Hurricane Katrina landed, one news report estimated that over 1 million persons may have
evacuated. See Peter Grier, “The Great Katrina Migration,” The Christian Science Monitor, Sept.
12, 2005, on-line version. One indicator of the size of the evacuated population is found in the
hotel invoice averages compiled (over a 14-day period) by FEMA in Report on Hotel Use:
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Dec. 29, 2005, available at [http://www.fema.gov/pdf/press/
katrina_after/14dayhotel.pdf], visited Jan. 3, 2006.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, The National Response Plan (Washington: 2004), p.
8. Hereafter cited as NRP. Similar text is used to describe the role of tribal chief executive
officers. See also p. 53 of the NRP (initial actions taken by first responders and local government
authorities including evacuations) and p. 54 (response actions that may involve federal assistance
including law enforcement and evacuations).
technical assistance.5 In the event of the most catastrophic incidents, “the federal
government or other national entities” are expected to provide public health, medical, and
mental health support at casualty evacuation points and refugee shelters.6
Federal law contains provisions related to the evacuation of civilians and planning
requirements within the United States, under specified circumstances. General authority
is also given to federal agencies for emergency preparedness activities that include
evacuation planning. These authorities are cited in Table 1.7
Table 1. Federal Statutory Emergency Evacuation Provisions
Federal employees and their dependents may receive
assistance if they must evacuate.
5 U.S.C. 5709, 5725,
The role of FEMA includes evacuating disaster victims.
6 U.S.C. 317
National Construction Safety Teams must evaluate technical
aspects of evacuation procedures and recommend research.
15 U.S.C. 7301, 73077308
Areas adjacent to evacuation routes may require wildfire fuel
16 U.S.C. 6511
Emergency preparedness activities include non-military
civilian evacuation and evacuation of personnel during
42 U.S.C. 5195a
Computer models for evacuation must be periodically
evaluated and improved.
42 U.S.C. 7403(f)(2)(C)
Temporary housing and evacuation of threatened persons are
to be included in the scope of hazardous substance removal.
42 U.S.C. 9601(23)
Emergency plans completed by local emergency planning
committees (LEPCs) must include evacuation plans.
42 U.S.C. 11003
Owners of facilities where a hazardous chemical release
occurs must provide information on precautions to be taken,
42 U.S.C. 11004(b)(2)
For example, the Department of Transportation (DOT) Regional Emergency Transportation
Coordinator (RETCO) coordinates with state and local authorities on “issues such as movement
restrictions, critical facilities closures, and evacuations”; establishes resource priorities; and
provides technical assistance. Ibid., p. ESF#1-3, 1-4. The Department of Defense coordinates
with DOT to evacuate patients, at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Ibid., p. ESF#8-4. See also 44 C.F.R. 352.26, which provides that federal agencies “may be
called upon” to provide reception centers or shelters for evacuees.
NRP, p. CAT-2.
Table 1 does not include statutory references to studies and investigatory commission mandates,
including those found at 23 U.S.C. 135 note; 49 U.S.C. 5338 note; P.L. 109-59, 119 Stat. 1471.
Secretary of Transportation must establish incident response
plans for facilities and vessels that include evacuation
46 U.S.C. 70104(b)
Congressional finding that private and public sector
emergency preparedness activities should include an
P.L. 108-458, §7305, 118
Evacuation routes are included as components of the
National Highway System high priority corridor
P.L. 109-59, §1304(a),
amends P.L. 102-250, 105
The Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT)
and the Secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with
the Gulf Coast States and contiguous states, were required to
review and assess federal and state evacuation plans for
catastrophic hurricanes impacting the Gulf Coast Region and
report, by October 1, 2006, to Congress.
P.L. 109-59, §10204, 119
Source: CRS compilation based on database searches conducted by Thomas P. Carr of the Government
and Finance Division and D. Randy Peterman, Resources, Science and Industry Division.
Note: Table 1 excludes statutory provisions found in historical notes, those related to the armed forces,
allowances and expenses for federal employees, appropriations, criminal offenses, foreign nations and
international relations, liability, specific transportation facilities, and payment of costs.
Displacement and Sheltering
One facet of evacuation is the withdrawal or removal of persons from a stricken or
threatened area. Another is the resettlement of the victims, or potential victims, and the
provision of shelter and resources in the areas to which those residents are moved — the
host areas. The NRP vests responsibility for the coordination of mass care for disaster
victims in FEMA and the American Red Cross. With the support of other federal
agencies, charitable organizations, the private sector, and individuals, victims of
catastrophes may find shelter outside the stricken area for a temporary period of time.8
Persons displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, like other disaster victims, are
eligible to receive emergency housing under two Stafford Act authorities. Temporary and
immediate assistance is provided under authority of Section 403 of the Stafford Act,
which authorizes the provision of emergency shelter.9 Such assistance is administered
through activities categorized as “Emergency Protective Measures” (referred to as
“Category B” of FEMA’s Public Assistance program). Activities supported by FEMA
under this authority must be eligible and cost effective, and specifically include the
“Emergency shelter includes the use of pre-identified shelter sites in existing structures...and
use of similar facilities outside the incident area, should evacuation be necessary.” NRP, p.
42 U.S.C. 5170b(a)(3)(B).
Emergency mass care and shelter when such cannot be provided by volunteer
agencies. If the applicant’s facilities are used by the volunteer agency to provide this
care, actual expenses incurred by the applicant, such as supplies or cleanup labor,
would be eligible. Expenses of PNPs [private non-profit organizations] for providing
these services are not eligible because their services are generally charitable in
In addition to the immediate emergency shelter assistance authorized by Section 403
of the Stafford Act, FEMA provides longer-term housing aid. The Individual and
Household Program (also referred to as Individual Assistance), authorized by Section 408
of the Stafford Act, provides funds and direct assistance.11 FEMA administers the
program that provides financial assistance for alternative accommodations, or direct
assistance through modular housing moved to a temporary housing site. In order to make
use of this authority, vacant alternative housing units (apartments, motels or hotels,
recreational vehicles, modular units) must be found, or sites must be developed for the
mobile homes brought on-site by FEMA.
Issues for Congressional Consideration
The President, at the request of the Governor of a state, is authorized to
direct the Secretary of Defense to use resources for emergency work to
save lives. The Governors of the states are authorized to direct the
evacuation of civilians under the emergency statutory authorities.
Congress may elect to revisit the statutory authority in the Stafford Act
(42 U.S.C. 5170b(c)) to specifically direct federal resources toward
evacuation needs. Also, Congress may elect to review statutory means
to expedite the delivery of federal resources and personnel to disaster
stricken areas in order to continue the evacuation of civilians and provide
necessary care, including medical treatment.
The Catastrophic Incident Annex of the NRP includes the assumption
that large-scale evacuations, whether spontaneous or directed pursuant to
authorities, may be more likely to occur after attacks than natural
disasters, and that the maintenance of public health will “aggravate
attempts to implement a coordinated evacuation management strategy.”12
In light of concerns raised by some that the NRP, and the focus of DHS,
is skewed toward concerns about terrorist attacks, Congress may review
whether this assumption adequately addresses the complications evident
in the evacuation of civilians before and after Hurricanes Katrina and
U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Public Assistance Guide, FEMA 322, available
at [http://www.fema.gov/pdf/rrr/pa/pagprnt_071905.pdf], p. 48, visited Jan. 3, 2006.
42 U.S.C. 5174.
NRP, p. CAT-3.
Persons in the affected population who struggle with disabilities, be they
mental or physical, require particular attention and assistance in
evacuations. The National Organization on Disability has developed a
guide for the consideration of the needs of disabled persons, particularly
the evacuation of those individuals from their communities.13 Congress
could consider whether standing state authorities adequately address the
needs of the disabled in evacuation circumstances. For example, H.R.
3815 and S. 1685 assign responsibility for preparing communities to
assist persons with special needs. S. 2124 would require that the DHS
secretary appoint a “Disability Coordinator” responsible for, among other
matters, the dissemination of information on evacuation plans for
The Stafford Act stipulates that relief and assistance be provided
“without discrimination on the grounds of...economic status.”14 FEMA
has responsibility to provide for the evacuation of disaster victims,15 and
provide for evacuation as part of federal emergency preparedness
efforts.16 Congress may assess whether existing evacuation plans and
procedures comport with the requirements of the Stafford Act, and
whether other efforts are required to ensure that low-income individuals
and households receive necessary aid. Low-income households are
included in the purview of H.R. 3815 and S. 1685 as “special needs”
States that house tens of thousands of disaster victims for many months
will face unexpected service delivery burdens, some of which (notably
aid provided by private non-profit organizations) may not be reimbursed
by FEMA. Congress may examine federal policy options to provide
assistance to host states and to ensure that emergency operational plans
include evacuation procedures; H.R. 4258 would require standards for
such plans. S. 1807 would authorize loans to non-profit organizations.
Households may be reluctant to evacuate when the implications of a
pending catastrophe remain unknown. Congress might consider
incentives for evacuations, such as H.R. 4066, which would provide tax
incentives to cover certain evacuation costs.
National Organization on Disability, Emergency Preparedness Initiative: Guide on the Special
Needs of People with Disabilities for Emergency Managers, Planners & Responders, available
at [http://nod.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.viewPage&pageId=11], visited Aug. 31, 2005.
42 U.S.C. 5151(b).
6 U.S.C. 317.
42 U.S.C. 5195a.