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Public Art with Preparedness at Heart: The Evacuspot

Categories: General, Natural Disasters, Preparedness, Response

It is Mardi Gras in New Orleans and I would like to take this time to introduce myself. I’m an EvacuSpot. I am a piece of public art with a purpose and a message. You will soon notice me on the city of New Orleans’ landscape. My journey has not been quick or easy, and I would not be ready to hit the streets of New Orleans without the support of those who care so much about our great city.  Oh wait, that’s jumping ahead.  Let me start from the beginning and tell you what I represent.

After Hurricane Katrina, City Assisted Evacuation (CAE) was created, tested, and then activated in response to Hurricane Gustav in 2008. The mandatory evacuation of the city for Hurricane Gustav went… okay. As with any response, there were some bumps and some lessons learned. However, volunteering at the bus terminal (in the midst of it all) was a young visionary, Robert Fogarty.

David Morris (L) and Robert Fogarty (R) showing the Whole Community Program team members, Robyn Sobelson and Cori Wigington where an EvacuSpot will be installed.

At the time the CAE was first activated, Robert Fogarty was an AmeriCorps volunteer serving in the Mayor’s office. His role required him to coordinate a large amount of volunteers suddenly needed and it was this experience that led to him creating the New Orleans-based non-profit called evacuteer.org. You should check it out, if you have not already. Evacuteer.org assists the city by supplementing city programs (like the CAE) with voluntary efforts.  Sofia Curdumi, Program Manager of Tulane University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy and Executive Leadership Committee member of evacuteer.org, describes it as a “cool, renegade non-profit” she finds “refreshing on the New Orleans landscape.”

To get evacuteer.org off the ground, Fogarty says, “It took a series of events, luck, timing, and obtaining the buy-in of the right people.” But it wasn’t enough for Fogarty to develop a nonprofit that serves as a ready workforce for the city to assist those without transportation to evacuate when the call comes. Something else bothered him and that was that the thousands of New Orleanians signed up for the CAE were asked to report to one of the city’s 17 pick-up points currently marked by a city sign a tad larger than a No Parking sign. A test of the CAE system in 2008 found that most citizens did not know where to go in their neighborhood to wait for the bus.  These signs were forgettable, boring, and Fogarty figured, “New Orleans can do better than that.”

Artist rendering of an EvacuSpot.

I was just a twinkle in Fogarty’s eye at that point, but my purpose was formed. The City of New Orleans needed me, an EvacuSpot. I would have the opportunity to put preparedness awareness on display as a reminder to the masses in a not-so scary way. Being prepared can be a beautiful thing. That’s when Fogarty asked the Arts Council of New Orleans to get involved.

It took a village (or many passionate New Orleanians) to create, fund, and approve me. Artist Douglas Kornfeld of Massachusetts was selected to create my design and fabrication. There were some zany fundraising attempts and then the program (evacuteer.org and the EvacuSpot project) caught the eye of the New York Times. The New York Times article had a very positive impact on me becoming a real EvacuSpot. For example, Robert Fogarty stated that, “there were donors that were on the fence about making a donation, but after seeing the NY Times article, they pulled the trigger.” I was much closer to becoming a reality when the CDC Foundation called, wanting to learn how evacuteer.org and EvacuSpot engaged the “Whole Community.”

In August 2012, I, the EvacuSpot project, was awarded a CDC Foundation sub-contract, which was the final link in the already long chain of community supporters and partners that allowed EvacuSpots to come to life. The CDC Foundation thinks what EvacuSpots stands for is a “promising example” of a Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management. Maybe you think EvacuSpots has some promise, too?

My predecessors (a.k.a. the “No Parking” signs) before me will never forget Hurricane Gustav. They were so small and unprepared to lead, unprepared to be the guiding post to the thousands of New Orleanians requiring assistance. I will not make those same mistakes. Every person who has registered for the City Assisted Evacuation (CAE) will recognize me on the street.  New Orleanians who pass me every day will be reminded of my purpose: a clearly identifiable icon marking the exact City Assisted Evacuation [CAE] pick-up points where citizens will gather to be transported out of town in the case of a mandatory evacuation.  I dare to dream that EvacuSpots will be discussed in every New Orleans household.

It is with hope that the communities I love, the many neighborhoods within the city of New Orleans I serve, will appreciate the uniqueness I represent. I like tourists, too! While I serve a greater purpose, there will be those who regard me simply as a piece of public art. Public art has never before seen something like me. I’m altruistic at heart and will never stray away from my overarching purpose: community preparedness.

There may be those who think I’m not cool and some may disregard me as they pass me on the street. That’s okay. I’m here when you need me. Just let me remind you: I’m here for a reason. What would you do if New Orleans had to evacuate …again? Are YOU prepared?

Current CAE Sign at one of the City of New Orleans pick-up points.

More information about the City Assisted Evacuation

More information about evacuteer.org

More information about Arts Council of New Orleans

More information about the Whole Community Program

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