Planning better evacuations

July 11, 2002

COLLEGE STATION - A software application designed to assist public officials with emergency evacuation decisions is being developed by scientists at Texas A&M University's Hazard Recovery and Reduction Center (HRRC).

The "Evacuation Management Decision Support System" (EMDSS) will help public officials monitor the onset of a potential hazard and determine when and where to initiate evacuations, say HRRC scientists. A four-year, $400,000 National Science Foundation grant is funding the initiative.

The EMDSS will be a data-driven software system allowing emergency officials to balance potential threats to public safety against evacuation costs, while factoring in such diverse elements as time constraints and event uncertainty, note HRRC scientists.

Center officials say the need for such a system arises from trends toward significant population growth in hazard-prone areas such as low-lying, hurricane-vulnerable land along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

According to HRRC research, this problem is further complicated by economic and political resistance to hazard-resistant land use and building construction practices.

"A low loss of life could be maintained if hazard resistant measures were adopted rapidly enough to offset increases in population growth, but since this is not happening as it should, it has become increasingly necessary to improve our ability to evacuate threatened populations and prevent loss of life," explained Michael Lindell, HRRC director and professor of urban planning at Texas A&M's College of Architecture.

A significant part of the research, Lindell says, will be realized through surveys collecting previously unavailable data. These surveys will examine evacuation warning and preparation times, compliance and spontaneous evacuation rates, evacuation route utilization, and the potential economic impact on evacuated areas, he adds.

"Because this data cannot be found in current scientific literature, the project promises to achieve significant theoretical advances in disaster research," said Carla Prater, an HRRC research scientist who collaborated with Lindell in developing the EMDSS proposal.

Since its inception, the HRRC has performed hazard/vulnerability analysis and evacuation planning for the Texas governor's Division of Emergency Management (DEM). It was through HRRC's work with DEM, Prater said, that the idea for the EMDSS arose. Additionally, Prater said, the center's longstanding relationship with DEM "offers an unparalleled opportunity for user input into the software design and for accelerated technology transfer to state and local emergency managers."

The EMDSS project will also be coordinated with researchers from the Taiwanese National Science and Technology Program for Hazard Mitigation (NAPHM). The Taiwanese, who have collaborated with the HRRC on numerous projects, are interested in extending the EMDSS to evacuations from landslides and inland flooding.
Contact: Phillip Rollfing, College of Architecture, (979)458-0442 or Carla Prater, HRRC research scientist, (979)862-3970. Photos available upon request.

Texas A&M University

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