Hurricanes Katrina and Rita revealed the inadequacies of evacuation plans for the Gulf Coast. Plans for evacuating the District may be no better, but Washington has an untapped resource that could, with planning, allow a relatively safe and orderly exit of thousands: the Potomac River. Plans to optimize use of the river as an evacuation route should include:
* Agreements with owners of watercraft on the river to report to designated embarkation points when directed. Some boat owners might be willing to take passengers one way, to a debarkation point downstream. Others, especially those who operate commercial boats, might be willing to shuttle between Washington embarkation points and debarkation points, such as the Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center in Maryland, or Mount Vernon, Woodbridge, Fort Belvoir or the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia.
* Arrangements should be made with one or more companies to operate ferries between the District and debarkation points.
* Military boats, operated by reservists, should be moored at the Washington Navy Yard, Fort Bel- voir, Indian Head and Quantico, with the primary mission of evacuating personnel from the District during emergencies.
* Rehearsals of emergency evacuations should be conducted at least semiannually. Harbor masters at each embarkation and debarkation point should be equipped with radio and cell phones and with plans that ensure contact with all participants. The Department of Homeland Security should organize monthly drills involving these harbor masters and smaller groups of the evacuation assets.
Washington should not wait for an emergency to occur before coming to grips with its evacuation problems.
Victoria K. Hall suggests a whistle system to warn residents about emergencies ["A Low-Tech Way to Warn D.C. of Danger," Close to Home, Sept. 25]. That's a simple and effective idea.
An alternative, and also a simple communications system, is the D.C. Emergency Radio Network. DCERN (www.dcradio.org) is a decentral- ized, citizen-organized network that uses store-bought Family Radio Service and General Mobile Radio Service radios. These are the easy-to- use, battery-operated, inexpensive, two-way radios that families use in places such as Disney World. In an emergency, tune to Channel 1, the emergency channel, and a neighbor will be there.
What happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina shows us that any plan can fail in a crisis. The destruc- tion of all means of communication in New Orleans -- land-line phones, cell phones, the Internet -- made the vast problems there worse. DCERN is designed to work when other modes of communication fail.
The writer is the founder of the D.C. Emergency Radio Network.
In the Sept. 24 news article "Ins and Outs of Emergency Evacuation; City Shows It Cannot Be Done Smoothly and Quickly," Richard A. Falkenrath, a former deputy home- land security adviser, was quoted on the impossibility of evacuating peo- ple downwind of a radioactive or toxic plume within one hour.
The real problem is that anyone would consider such an evacuation. For any radioactive plume and many toxic substances, "shelter in place" is the only responsible action.
The Department of Homeland Security and the media must begin telling people the truth about such incidents: that fewer people will die if we do not evacuate -- exactly the opposite of the case with hurricanes.
J. MICHAEL ROWE