D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty unveiled the city’s new evacuation signs Monday morning to designate evacuation routes in case of a city emergency.

The signs, which feature the words “Evacuation Route” in white lettering on a blue background, are set to replace the original markers, which are indicated with a miniature D.C. flag. The upgrade is part of a larger initiative to improve the efficiency of the District’s emergency response system.

A total of 3,500 signs will be mounted along the 19 emergency routes leading out of the city. Bidding for the installation is scheduled to begin next week, but officials estimate that the process will cost $250,000 and be completed by the spring of 2009.

The improvement was met with mixed reactions. Critics argue that the new markers, which lack arrows or symbols to indicate the direction of the route, will confuse local residents and tourists alike in the event of an emergency. Other commentators suggest that the monolingual signs may not be completely effective in a city home to many non-English speakers.

“This is just the first part of the program, so we will take [the complaints] into consideration,” said Frank Seales Jr., the interim director of the D.C. Department of Transportation.

In a press release, Mayor Fenty noted that the signs function not in isolation but as part of a larger evacuation system to assist people.

The District has been working to improve its emergency response mechanisms for several years. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, city officials developed a broad disaster plan characterized by the evacuation system as well as a database of area shelter services.

The Department of Homeland Security performed a national evaluation of city and regional emergency response systems after Hurricane Katrina, finding that the D.C. area met just 13 percent of the requirements for responding to a major disaster – results which prompted the creation of a more comprehensive action plan, unveiled in 2007.

The District’s current plan would be used to guide Georgetown University officials in the event of a citywide emergency. The university currently maintains partnerships with local and federal institutions, such as the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security.

In addition, the university has prepared its own emergency management plan, as a “proactive means of emergency preparedness,” according to the document.

“The Plan provides response scenarios to predictable emergencies such as severe weather conditions, utility outages, hazardous material spills, and physical damage and destruction and

allows the flexibility for officials to respond to unforeseen catastrophic events that may occur as a result of random incidents such as terrorism, regional crises and unique national threats,” it states.

A regional or national threat is considered the fifth and highest level on the university’s emergency response scale and is defined as an event or series of events that threaten or disrupt the local community enough to impair university access to regional resources generally offered by government support agencies.

During such an emergency, campus officials, under the direction of the vice president of university safety, would work to assess the risk and take appropriate action, including, if necessary, the supervision of a full evacuation of the city.

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