Evacuation Tracking System Developed by CSR Receives Major International Award

A mass evacuation tracking system developed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita by researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin has won a major award from the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM).

The Texas Emergency Tracking Network (TETN) was developed for the state of Texas by the school's Center for Space Research and was used during the recent Bastrop wildfires.

It received the IAEM-Global Partners in Preparedness Award, which recognizes programs or processes that demonstrate innovative involvement among local governments and private sector businesses, nongovernmental organizations/nonprofits or individuals that have resulted in effective and efficient incident management, emergency management or homeland security processes.

The comprehensive data-management system provides real-time information about displaced people who receive state assistance to evacuate before, during and after a disaster. The system was used to evacuate coastal residents during Hurricanes Ike and Gustav in 2008. Most recently, local shelters used the system to organize emergency sheltering during the Bastrop wildfires.

"This award is great evidence for the value of using real-time tracking and communications technologies to conduct mass evacuations and monitor first responders in the field," said lead researcher Gordon Wells of the Cockrell School's Center for Space Research.

Partners on TETN include: the Texas Department of State Health Services, Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, Sabine-Neches Chiefs' Association, The University of Texas at Austin Center for Space Research and Radiant RFID LLC.

Wells designed the original system in 2006 after an executive order by Gov. Rick Perry for the state to create an electronic system to manage mass evacuations. The system was built in collaboration with Austin-based Radiant RFID and uses servers and databases at the university's Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC).

"It shows that professionals in the emergency management community recognize the important steps that Texas has taken to create a system that traces the moment-by-moment movement of tens of thousands of evacuees and thousands of buses, ambulances and other vehicles transporting assets in an emergency," Wells said.

Before the system's development, many localities used tracking systems, but the systems could not communicate with one another. With the creation of TETN, they now can.

The system uses state-issued ID bands each with a unique radio frequency chip and barcode given to every person evacuated and sheltered. Bands are also issued for pets and medical equipment, making the process of enrolling evacuees as they enter buses and emergency evacuation vehicles quick and easy.

The International Association of Emergency Managers, which has more than 5,000 members in 58 countries, is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to promoting the goals of saving lives and protecting property during emergencies and disasters.