MIT Whiz's Computer Model Could Improve Hurricane Evacuations

Michael Metzger developed the system as part of his doctoral research at the famed engineering school.

K.C. Jones, Contributor

September 3, 2008

2 Min Read

A graduate student from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created a software tool to improve evacuation planning for hurricanes.

Michael Metzger developed the computer model as part of the research for his doctorate dissertation. MIT said the tool will help emergency coordinators determine when to evacuate and how. It could also improve selection of locations for stocking relief supplies before a hurricane strikes.

Metzger analyzed 50 years of hurricane data and compared the information available before the hurricanes struck with data from hurricane paths after the fact. Then, he created software that gives a scientifically consistent framework for planning, MIT's news office reported.

MIT said that Metzger used the best hurricane track models, which are wrong about half the time, and improved upon them.

The research assistant at MIT Engineering Systems Division's Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals and student at MIT's Operations Research Center won a second-place award earlier this year from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for his work, which stood out from more than 100 entries.

Federal and state emergency leaders have said they are interested in comparing the results from Metzger's methodology with those from their existing procedures.

The visual computer model could teach local emergency managers to make life-or-death decisions forced by approaching hurricanes and avoid gridlock and unnecessary precautionary evacuations. Gridlock can trap motorists on flooded highways and unnecessary evacuations can cause complacency.

Metzger's software would help plan for staged evacuations of different groups like tourists, the elderly and families with children, using local demographics. It also would give information needed to decide when to order an evacuation.

Metzger, who received an award from the National Science Foundation, plans improvements to the software over the next year.

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