Back on Sept. 11, 2001, drivers downtown found themselves in gridlock for hours.
Now, with the anniversary of that national crisis, we investigated what would happen in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County if there was a sudden evacuation.
The I-Team discovered new plans for the city and the entire county to avoid chaos, confusion and gridlock.
Mark Christie, Cuyahoga County’s emergency manager, said the county updated its overall evacuation plan in 2019. Since then, the county has been working with each town on specific details.
“We approached the evacuation plan very differently from how it had been done in the past,” Christie said. “Really get down into the specifics of traffic control points, assembly areas, specific routing. They all have to be coordinated seamlessly at any event when a larger evacuation is occurring.”
Dottie Grigsby remembers trying to get out of downtown on Sept. 11. She remembers traffic at a standstill with everyone suddenly trying to get somewhere.
“A normal 20-minute drive took, maybe, an hour and a half. And it was something I’ll never forget: bumper to bumper traffic, people screaming in the streets,” she said.
Not long after 9/11, you could find evacuation routes on kiosks all over downtown. You could see where you should go in a crisis, but that’s not the case anymore.
Planners said it’s more important for police officers and firefighters to know what to do to move people around in an emergency.
Cleveland Police issued a statement:
“The Cleveland Division of Police has an incident based evacuation plan in place. It is important to remember that the Bureau of Traffic officers are regularly in practice dispersing large crowds and vehicle traffic following sporting events, concerts, parades, etc.“
Meanwhile, drivers we met are relying on first responders to move people out quickly as they admitted they wouldn’t know what to do to evacuate.
One driver said, “There was never a real protocol that was given to any of us.”
Another said, “I’d just get on the freeway and hope I’d be able to get home.”
While downtown streets, generally, haven’t been as busy lately due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve seen how quickly city streets and even highways can become parking lots.
The county and the city say officials have been holding regular meetings. That way, they’ll be familiar with the new plans in case they need to jump into action quickly.