The COVER Program -- Communication Of Vacancies Emergency Response -- was initiated by the Communications Section in 2011 and inspired by the influx of evacuees to Arkansas due to Hurricane Katrina. The system is activated when an emergency forces evacuation from surrounding areas into Arkansas. During Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated 1.1 million people over the age of 16 were forced to evacuate their homes. Throughout the evacuation, most of those driving through Arkansas were unfamiliar with secondary roads and stayed on major highways in search of overnight accommodations. Because of this, many evacuees drove past available rooms. This caused a huge problem—hotels located on major thoroughfares had no vacancies while other lodging properties near secondary routes remained open with ample availability.
To help prevent similar problems in the future, a website was developed to assist travelers. In the event of another mass evacuation, COVER will be activated. Lodging managers will begin entering their number of available rooms onto the website. Travelers will be able to enter their email address or cell phone number to receive messages along their journey with lodging updates. Also, those that follow Twitter can follow #ARKCOVER for updates during a crisis. In time of emergency, the media in the affected area will be notified about the activation of COVER. A link to the COVER main page will appear on Arkansas.com. Once on the road, travelers with smart phones may access COVER information in a mobile format at http://cover.arkansas.com.
View a presentation on using the COVER system at http://youtu.be/JlJQ0V73ikw. For more information e-mail the communications section or call 501-682-7602.