Puerto Rican residents walk in flooded streets in Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, following Hurricane Maria. Photo courtesy of the Puerto Rico National Guard
A team of professors and graduate students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University are studying Hurricane Irma’s mass evacuation in order to provide recommendations for a smoother exodus in the future.
Millions heeded the warnings of a state of emergency and mandatory evacuations when Hurricane Irma approached Florida in September 2017. Highways, interstates and the Florida Turnpike were congested when 7 million people were ordered to evacuate before the powerful Category 4 storm made landfall. Vehicles and gas stations ran out of fuel, causing gridlocks.
The Embry-Riddle study, which will continue through February 2019, will provide an analysis to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on Irma’s evacuation and fuel shortages that occurred. The team on Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus will identify opportunities and vulnerabilities that currently exist. They will also make policy recommendations for more efficient future evacuations as well as suggest how to improve allocation of resources and better equip areas to avoid fuel shortages.
The research is part of a sub-grant from the Center for Advanced Transportation Mobility, a consortium led by North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University through the DOT’s University Transportation Centers Program.
With use of Embry-Riddle’s Cray CS cluster supercomputer, various scenarios and simulations will be conducted, including calculating factors such as fuel levels of individual cars, evacuation routes, number of lanes on various roads, gas station locations, and incidents of emergencies and traffic jams due to random accidents and gas shortages.
A particle dynamics mathematical model will study pedestrian movement and ways to reduce the spread of infectious diseases on commercial airlines and at airports. Algorithms will be derived that will help provide real-time data during future evacuations.
The team will perform a detailed case study of evacuation out of Florida from Miami-Dade County on interstates 95 and 75 and Florida's Turnpike. Public data from the Florida DOT is also being reviewed along with data from tech company GasBuddy. GasBuddy is an app and website database of more than 140,000 gas station convenience stores and includes real-time fuel price information, station locations, offerings and reviews.
Government policies in place with respect to refueling will be studied along with processes for phased closing and opening of gas stations.
Sirish Namilae, assistant professor of aerospace engineering and principal investigator on the project, said the study is not looking at helicopter response at this time. The study is identifying areas of critical need in the state.