Student Helps Rescue Future Hurricane Victims

An MIT doctoral project helps evacuate disaster sites intelligently

Preparing For Gustav

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There's some good news as hurricane season is getting under way: an MIT graduate student has developed a computer model that helps evacuation managers make better decisions, and possibly save lives in the process.

During a hurricane, a poorly executed plan can make evacuation nearly impossible. But the software, created by graduate student Michael Metzger as part of his research for his Ph.D., allows the possible effects of specific decisions to be individually analyzed. The software can assist managers in making a full array of difficult decisions, from when to order evacuations to being more efficient when clearing people out of affected areas. Furthermore, the program could help decide the best locations for relief supplies before a hurricane hits.

The initial innovation that has come from the software is the concept of evacuating people by category, rather than geographic location. Based on demographic information, managers could decide to evacuate first elderly people, then tourists and families with children, instead of simply attempting to get all people out of one specific geographic area.

Using data collected from 50 years of hurricanes, Metzger compared information that was available at a specific point in time with the data from the actual storm's passage. From there, Metzger says he was able to develop software that creates a "scientifically consistent framework to plan for an oncoming hurricane."