Monday, August 17, 2009

Evacuating in an Electric Car

This year’s North Atlantic hurricane season might have been slow to get started, but I hope no one was lulled into a false sense of security . . . because over the weekend, two tropical storms made landfall and a third developed into a hurricane.

That makes it a good time to talk about being ready to evacuate, and if you have a car, this subject tends to focus on your car. When you have to get yourself out of danger, it makes sense to get your car out of danger too. Being ready to evacuate can include:

  • Keeping a map in the car. When everyone is trying to get out at once, you might need to know what the alternate routes are.
  • Not parking the car with the fuel gauge on “E.” When you’re in a hurry to get out of town, it’s a bummer to have to stop for fuel first.

Now that more people are driving limited-range electric vehicles, some new thinking is required for evacuation plans, and this goes beyond the obvious step of recharging the car when you park it for the night.

Some electric vehicles have a range as little as 35 miles. That could be as far as you need to go in a typical evacuation, but if you need to go farther, that could mean knowing where you can stop to recharge the car, or where you can park it in relative safety and then proceed by other transportation.

Emergency planners can help out in large-scale evacuations by providing buses from designated park-and-ride lots 20 miles or so from the population centers that are evacuating. They can also help by coordinating recharging locations when people are evacuating the day before a hurricane and there is still time to stop to recharge.

As long as flooding is not an issue, evacuations are easier to do with electric vehicles. Electric cars (and electric hybrids) have an advantage in the heavy traffic that often comes in an evacuation. Fuel-burning vehicles use more fuel in stop-and-go traffic, and in the worst case, could run out of gas after half a day of slow going. Authorities sometimes have to round up extra fuel for gas stations along an evacuation route to keep the cars rolling. An electric vehicle, though, will go just as far as always no matter how slow the traffic is.