Developed by Michael Metzger, the software 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 optimise 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 that 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.
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.
According to Metzger, by spacing out the evacuation of different groups over a period of about two days, 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 this system, officials would get the information needed to “pull the trigger earlier, and phase the evacuation," and thus potentially save many lives.
Other factors that could help to make evacuations more effective is 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.