Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Saving Lives Through Smarter Hurricane Evacuations

Date:
August 29, 2008
Source:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Summary:
Hundreds of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars could potentially be saved if emergency managers could make better and more timely critical decisions when faced with an approaching hurricane. Now, an MIT graduate student has developed a computer model that could help do just that.

A sign indicating a hurricane evacuation route near Boca Raton, Florida.
Credit: Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hundreds of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars could potentially be saved if emergency managers could make better and more timely critical decisions when faced with an approaching hurricane. Now, an MIT graduate student has developed a computer model that could help do just that.

Related Articles


Michael Metzger's software tool, created as part of the research for his PhD dissertation, could allow emergency managers to better decide early on whether and when to order evacuations — and, crucially, to do so more efficiently by clearing out people in stages. The tool could also help planners optimize the location of relief supplies before a hurricane hits.

By analyzing data from 50 years of hurricanes and detailed information on several major ones, and by comparing the information available at various times as a hurricane approached with data from the actual storm's passage, Metzger said he was able to produce software that provides a scientifically consistent framework to plan for an oncoming hurricane. His approach uses the best available hurricane track models developed over the years, but even these can be wrong half of the time — a degree of uncertainty that further complicates the job for local emergency managers.

Because many of these managers have never had to confront the life-or-death realities of an approaching hurricane, they need a consistent analytical framework to consider the sequence of complex decisions that they need to make. For example, a poorly planned evacuation could cause roadway gridlock and trap evacuees in their cars — leaving them exposed to the dangers of inland flooding. As another example, ordering too many precautionary evacuations could lead to complacency among local residents, who might then ignore the one evacuation advisory that really matters.

"All in all, this is a complex balancing act," Metzger says.

The concept of evacuating an area in stages — focusing on different categories of people rather than different geographical locations — is one of the major innovations to come out of Metzger's work, since congestion on evacuation routes has been a significant problem in some cases, such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Metzger suggests that, for example, the elderly might be evacuated first, followed by tourists, families with children, and then the remaining population. The determination of the specific categories and their sequence could be determined based on the demographics of the particular area.

By spacing out the evacuation of different groups over a period of about two days, he says, the process would be more efficient, while many traditional systems of evacuating a given location all at once can and have caused serious congestion problems. With his system, officials would get the information needed to "pull the trigger earlier, and phase the evacuation," he says, and thus potentially save many lives. Coincidentally, during the recent hurricane Fay in Florida, a modest version of a selective evacuation was implemented successfully when tourists were asked to leave while residents remained in place.

Other factors that could help to make evacuations more effective, he says, include better planning in the preparation of places for evacuees to go to, making sure buses and other transportation are ready to transport people, and preparing supplies in advance at those locations.

Metzger, who is a research assistant in the MIT Engineering Systems Division's Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals, and a PhD student in the Operations Research Center, received a second-place award out of more than 100 entries from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security earlier this year for the work. He has already discussed his conclusions with federal and state emergency officials, who said they are interested in adopting the new methodology. The hope is that they will initially use it side by side with their existing procedures, in order to track exactly how the results would compare, Metzger says. It is possible that his methods, implemented as a visually appealing computer program, could be used as a "cockpit training tool" for local emergency managers.

His adviser Richard Larson, Mitsui Professor of Engineering Systems and of Civil and Environmental Engineering, says Metzger's approach "embodies elements of engineering, management and the social sciences." For example, while much of the work was strictly mathematical in the analysis of decision-making strategies, there was also a strong component of sociology involved in evaluating people's responses to false-alarm evacuations.

Metzger has discussed the work with officials in South Africa, and also received an award from the National Science Foundation's graduate student conference. He plans to refine the software further over the course of the next year or so.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Saving Lives Through Smarter Hurricane Evacuations." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 August 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080828120320.htm>.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2008, August 29). Saving Lives Through Smarter Hurricane Evacuations. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080828120320.htm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Saving Lives Through Smarter Hurricane Evacuations." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080828120320.htm (accessed April 21, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Maine Storm Surge Sparks Power Explosions

Raw: Maine Storm Surge Sparks Power Explosions

AP (Apr. 21, 2015) — Police dash cam video shows a series of explosions along the beach in Maine as heavy storm surge soaked electrical transformers. (April 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Searching For The Loch Ness Monster? Try Google Street View

Searching For The Loch Ness Monster? Try Google Street View

Newsy (Apr. 21, 2015) — For the anniversary of the notorious "Surgeon&apos;s Photo" of the Loch Ness monster, Google used Street View to let those online join the search. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Going Ape: Sierra Leone Chimpanzees Hail Ebola Retreat

Going Ape: Sierra Leone Chimpanzees Hail Ebola Retreat

AFP (Apr. 21, 2015) — As money runs out at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone, around 85 chimps are facing homelessness. The centre closed when the Ebola epidemic was ravaging the country but now that closure is beginning to look permanent. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Solar Plane Completes 6th Leg of Quest to Circumnavigate Globe

Solar Plane Completes 6th Leg of Quest to Circumnavigate Globe

AFP (Apr. 21, 2015) — Solar Impulse 2 lands in the Chinese city of Nanjing, finishing the sixth stage of its landmark 12-leg quest to circumnavigate the globe powered only by the sun. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins