Padilla, Cassidy Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Improve Evacuation Route Planning

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) introduced bipartisan legislation to develop guidelines for state and local governments to improve emergency evacuation preparedness. The Emergency Vehicle and Community (EVAC) Planning Act would direct the Department of Transportation (DOT), in consultation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to develop and publicly disseminate guidance and best practices for states, territories, Tribes, and local governments to utilize when conducting transportation infrastructure planning.

The Senate previously passed a version of the bill as an amendment to the FY 2024 appropriations minibus package. U.S. Senators Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono (both D-Hawaii) are cosponsoring the bill.

“With wildfires, floods, and other disasters impacting our communities more frequently, Californians have seen firsthand the devastating consequences when emergency evacuation routes are overwhelmed,” said Senator Padilla. “Yet far too often, smaller, rural, and Tribal governments lack crucial tools for disaster preparedness planning. Well-planned emergency evacuation routes can be the difference between life and death. We must equip our communities with the tools to effectively develop these routes.”

“Avoiding harm is part of weathering a storm,” said Dr. Cassidy. “Well maintained evacuation routes keep our communities safe ahead of hurricanes. Our bill creates guidelines for infrastructure planning to help save lives.”

“The provision of guidelines to help communities implement emergency response protocols would not only help strengthen regional transportation planning efforts, but would also help bolster public safety in the event of a disaster. This exciting legislation also has great potential to improve long-term community economic recovery,” said Joe McKinney, Executive Director, National Association of Development Organizations.

“When disasters strike, county officials and emergency responders play a critical role in immediate and long-term efforts to help our communities respond and recover,” said National Association of Counties Executive Director Matthew Chase. “The bipartisan Emergency Vehicle and Community Planning Act would provide us with additional insights into developing and implementing evacuation routes to keep our residents safe before, during and after a disaster. We thank Senators Padilla, Cassidy, Schatz and Hirono for introducing this legislation and urge its swift passage.” 

In recent years, wildfires have become increasingly intense and destructive across California and the United States. Wildfires like California’s Camp Fire in 2018 and the Lahaina wildfires in Maui in 2023 devastated communities. In both cases, limited evacuation routes became heavily clogged, preventing victims from escaping the flames more quickly.

The EVAC Planning Act is endorsed by the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) and National Association of Counties (NACo).

Senator Padilla has prioritized improving federal support for helping communities respond to wildfires, floods, and other disasters. The Senate recently passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2024, which included bipartisan amendments he authored to expedite the transfer of critical firefighting aircraft to the State of California and to bolster West Coast Atmospheric River forecasting. In 2022, Padilla and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.-18) successfully passed the FIRE Act, legislation to strengthen FEMA’s wildfire preparedness and response efforts. He also successfully advocated for California to receive billions for wildfire response and drought relief in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Additionally, Padilla’s Fire Suppression Improvement Act, a bill to help ease the burden on state and local governments who are shouldering the weight of increasingly devastating wildfires, previously advanced unanimously out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

A one-pager of the bill is available here.

Full text of the bill is available here.


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