Sharon Begley discusses computer simulation of emergency evacuations of major cities, in her column on Science in today's Wall Street Journal. Using simulated reconstructions of cities, such as Portland, Oregon, scientific researchers can discover what models and factors would improve evacuation efficiency. The simulations are based on the natural disaster premise, in which 24 or 48 hours warning enables emergency officials to put a careful plan into action. We saw just such a successful evacuation of Houston in advance of hurricane Rita. Begley concludes that the requirement of advance notice means that evacuation without advance notice of the disaster, such as a WMD terrorist strike, "is just not in the cards."
Surely this is a short-sighted conclusion. It would be irresponsible of public planning officials to accept it. In the case of a WMD event in central Los Angeles, for instance, it would take several hours under normal meteorological conditions for a radiation cloud to reach the outer ring of suburbs and cities. Two hours is not two days; but it is not nothing, either. If we could save 1 million persons from radioactive poisoning and a lifetime of complications, even if we can't save 5 million persons, shouldn't we?
Finally, the simulations do not address the issue of civilian preparation for evacuation and self-defense. I believe, as I have stated before in these blogs, that a civil defense program must be instituted. Civilians must be trained and prepared for the major urban terrorist strike that every responsible official in the federal government says is coming. If civil defense would enable us to raise to 2 million the number of persons we could rescue in a MWD strike on Los Angeles, even if not all 5 million persons, shouldn't we?