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In Wake of Hurricane Irma’s Messy Evacuation and Fuel Shortages, Study Will Seek Improvements

| June 13, 2018

Embry-Riddle's Cray supercomputer, above, will do the heavy lifting. (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University)

Embry-Riddle’s Cray supercomputer, above, will do the heavy lifting. (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University)

 As Hurricane season begins this month, a team of EmbryRiddle Aeronautical University professors and graduate students have been charged with studying Hurricane Irma’s mass evacuation and provide recommendations for a smoother exodus in the future.


With a state of emergency declared and mandatory evacuations issued throughout the state as Hurricane Irma approached Florida last September, millions heeded the warnings. Highways, interstates and the Florida Turnpike quickly turned into parking lots as about 7 million people were ordered to evacuate before the powerful Category 4 storm made landfall. Vehicles and gas stations, including in Flagler County,  ran out of fuel, causing gridlocks.

The EmbryRiddle study, which will continue through February 2019, will provide an analysis to the U.S. Department of Transportation  on Irma’s evacuation and fuel shortages that occurred. The team on EmbryRiddle’s Daytona Beach Campus will identify opportunities and vulnerabilities that currently exist, make policy recommendations for more efficient future evacuations, and suggest how to improve allocation of resources and better equip areas to avoid fuel shortages.

“If you know in advance which areas will be hardest hit, priority treatment can be given to refueling those gas stations,” said Sirish Namilae, assistant professor of Aerospace Engineering and principal investigator on the project along with co-principal investigator Dahai Liu, Ph.D., professor with the School of Graduate Studies, and their graduate students Sabique Islam and Dimitrios Garis.

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 transportation department’s University Transportation Centers Program.

With use of EmbryRiddle’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.

“By conducting simulation runs within specified parameters, we hope to get a better picture of what occurs when the masses are forced to move along a particular path and how it affects them,” said Garis, an Aeronautics master’s student working with professor Liu. “We hope this research will provide emergency evacuation planners with an idea of what can be done to help speed up traffic flow and ensure evacuees make it out of the danger areas faster.”

Namilae is adapting a particle dynamics mathematical model he and a previous team developed to 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 Interstate 95, Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 75.

Public data from the Florida Department of Transportation is also being reviewed and data from tech company GasBuddy, whose app and website database of more than 140,000 gas station convenience stores, includes real-time fuel price information, station locations, offerings and reviews.  

“This research uses a combination of theories and ideas borrowed from different avenues of science such as disease transmission modeling, sensor fusion algorithms from aerospace engineering and probability of random numbers from computational mathematics,” said Islam, a graduate teaching assistant studying Aerospace Engineering. “The outcome will help teach future researchers to employ different methods to their research and have an open mind when it comes to attacking scientific problems from different aspects.” 

Government policies in place with respect to refueling will be studied along with processes for phased closing and opening of gas stations.

“We are looking at whether fuel restrictions placed on cars could help to get more cars out, since during a hurricane there are limited supplies for each gas station and gasoline cannot be delivered to gas stations promptly due to traffic constraints,” Liu said. “This type of situation is hard to investigate as it involves many factors that are complex and studies are extremely limited.”

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3 Responses for “In Wake of Hurricane Irma’s Messy Evacuation and Fuel Shortages, Study Will Seek Improvements”

  1. ConstantlyAmazed says:

    If your going to do a “STUDY” on these issues please get REAL ANSWERS. Every time a “study” is conducted the researchers follow the same protocols in analyzing plans and procedures created by desktop managers and think tank brainaics that base answers from “model scenarios & predictions” coupled with analysis of findings regardless of timeframes of other issues.

    If they really want to conduct a true “STUDY” ask on condition of anonymity the “GRUNT” workers and responders. Get real answers and suggestions from the men and women who see it first hand not a “manager” who sits in a office with a bunch of theories.

  2. capt says:

    I don’t care what they think they can do, moving 10 million people from south Fla north, and then having 3 million that are in the central coastlines being asked to leave, well there is NOT enough roads to handle that mass of cars. Its called Over population of a state and few roadways to handle the traffic. And it will get worst.

  3. tulip says:

    Not only did millions of people leave Florida, but there were millions who were evacuating the states near by. We did evacuate and it was the ride from Hell and, as we left Florida and got into Ga, there were even more people entering the highway from other places and was a major huge traffic jam. We headed for Greer Sc, which is a 7hour drive. Knowing it was going to be high traffic, we decided to do the trip in 2 days time span, rather than one. Good thing we did, because it took us almost 7 to get to Byron Ga, where we stayed the first night and then another 6 hours to get to Greer the next day. Oh, the day before we left, it took us almost 8 eight hours on the phone trying to find available motel rooms which were practically non existent. Then we repeated the same thing 4 days later.

    There is no way that kind of problem can be solved. You can’t jam highways with more people than it was meant to handle or have only many hundreds of motel rooms available for millions of people.

    Regarding electric power, the city needs to realize that it needs to have designated power workers for the areas that are on city sewage and not just desginated ones for those with pep tanks. The pep tank neighborhoods get power back relatively soon and I understand why,, but it’s also not fair for the others to be without power for a week or more. There are many people here that are on oxygen or other medical equipment and other life saving things that require power to work, and they really suffer. Maybe the city should have the pep tank system cleaned out before the storm actually hits and not wait until it’s too late.

    Just a thought

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