The Best – and Worst U.S. Cities for Evacuation During a Disaster


No one likes to think about it, but disaster can strike at any time. People in areas prone to hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and other natural disasters know this all too well. If the worst were to happen and your city needed to evacuate, would it be ready?

PT&C|LWG recently determined how the 10 most populated urban metro areas would fare in an evacuation. They took into account a wide range of factors: exit capacity, internal traffic, roadway intensity (number of lanes per thousand people), auto availability, bottlenecks, congestion, geographic barriers (oceans, lakes, mountains), public transit, land area, and density (population per square mile).

Texas leads the way in preparedness, with Dallas and Houston ranking number one and two, respectively. Dallas has top ratings for exit capacity, auto availability, geographic barriers and roadway intensity. In Houston, they excel at having few bottlenecks, and strong exit capacity. Coming in third is Atlanta. It shines when it comes to density and geographic barriers. 

However, the 2009 Atlanta Region Evacuation and Coordination Plan found an evacuation would take at least 24 hours––not exactly great news when faced with a disaster. 

Boston claims the fourth spot. While it has terrible traffic issues, it is the third best city in the nation when it comes to public transportation; one-third of Bostonians rely on the transit system daily. Sitting in the middle of the metro area rankings is Philadelphia at number five. It scores poorly for auto availability, congestion, land area and roadway intensity. 

Washington, D.C. comes in number six. While Pennsylvania Avenue is unable to be used for political evacuation, this city does well when it comes to public transportation (best in the country), geographic barriers, land area and bottlenecks. In seventh place is Miami, which shares the same issues as Philadelphia. Miami differentiates Storm Surge zones (which can cause a high level of storm damage in that area), which are at risk for flooding, from evacuation zones, which are areas of the city under evacuation or shelter-in-place orders. 

Looking at the bottom three, Chicago ranks at number eight. The city does have an emergency evacuation plan, but strangely has chosen not to make it available to the public. Chicago struggles when it comes to internal traffic, exit capacity and roadway intensity. Los Angeles is at number nine. It’s no secret that the city is known for its traffic issues and that comes through in the findings. Los Angeles receives low marks for bottlenecks, density and internal traffic. 

The worst city of all to evacuate? That would be New York City. Unlike the other worst performers, traffic is not the biggest concern. Instead, it has low marks for exit capacity, auto availability, roadway intensity and land area.


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