Evacuation model considers human behavior in face of hurricane

A new evacuation program that will be discussed next week in Palm Beach County considers human behavior in the face of a storm when considering the time it will take to get people out of harm’s way.

Called Transportation Interface Modeling Evacuations, or TIME, the program was presented this morning at the National Hurricane Conference by Florida Emergency Management Hurricane Program Manager Andrew Sussman.

Palms along South Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach blow in the wind as a band from Tropical Storm Bonnie passes Palm Beach County near noon Friday. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

Palms along South Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach blow in the wind as a band from Tropical Storm Bonnie passes Palm Beach County near noon Friday. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

Sussman will be in Palm Beach County next week speaking with Bill Johnson, the director of the county’s emergency management.

Sussman said TIME was developed after the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. While it was first introduced in 2010, it is just getting fast enough where it can be used in real-time situations.

“The best way to look at this is the National Hurricane Center forecasts the behavior of the storm and TIME forecasts the behavior of the population,” Sussman said.  “We’ve known for 30 years that if you get a weak storm no one will evacuate. But a Category 2 storm can bring a Category 4 storm surge.”

Who evacuates in Palm Beach County during a Category 1 storm. 

The new program takes into consideration how many people are expected to evacuate depending on the storm, where those people are most likely to evacuate to, what shelters are open and can even account for tourist season.

He said there is no function at this point for snowbirds.

“The nightmare scenario is having people stuck on the roads,” Sussman said. “We have 30-plus years of data on how people behave during storms and that is how we learn, from the past. We have ways to map behavior.”

Palm Beach County’s evacuation zones are based more on storm surge than wind. Time can make calculations for complex situations such as if a Category 2 storm with an 18-foot storm surge is coming with half the shelters open and “40 percent of the population” evacuating to Disney World.

Johnson said he’ll determine how to incorporate TIME with the county’s current system after he gets the personal tutorial from Sussman.

Studies have shown that people base their evacuation decisions on past experiences with storms.

So, when Hurricane Irene was over-predicted, people later faced with Sandy, may have felt they didn’t need to leave. Also, people may misjudge the category storm they experienced. Someone might think they went through a Category 2 hurricane, when the winds at their house may have only been tropical storm force.

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