Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Saving lives through smarter hurricane evacuations

02.09.2008
MIT student's software seen aiding emergency officials' decision-making

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.

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.

Jen Hirsch | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Construction of practical quantum computers radically simplified
05.12.2016 | University of Sussex

nachricht UT professor develops algorithm to improve online mapping of disaster areas
29.11.2016 | University of Tennessee at Knoxville

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

IHP presents the fastest silicon-based transistor in the world

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

InLight study: insights into chemical processes using light

05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

High-precision magnetic field sensing

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>