The Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism will begin testing COVER—the “Communication of Vacancies Emergency Response” system—on July 1. COVER is activated when an emergency forces evacuation from surrounding areas into Arkansas.
In addition to using COVER during an emergency, the system will be tested during busy holidays. Travelers can use the system to find lodging availability information for last minute travel plans. The test will take place during the Independence Day weekend beginning on July 1, 2011, at 9:00 a.m., ending on July 5, 2011, at 9:00 a.m.
Information about COVER:
While coastal areas work diligently to help evacuees exit affected areas, states like Arkansas open their doors to many of those looking for lodging. 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, the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism developed a website 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 use 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