NDSU researchers to study Hurricane Matthew evacuation decision-making
Published October 2016
North Dakota State University researchers are getting to work as powerful Hurricane Matthew bears down on America’s southeastern states. More than 11 million people are in harm’s way, and many of them have difficult decisions to make.
The researchers want to find out how and why local residents choose to evacuate. They also will study the many variables that can explain the uncertainty in making those decisions.
NDSU, along with Purdue University and Virginia Tech, are conducting a sweeping study of the decision-making process by authorities and families. They also are surveying operational meteorologists across the country and conduct a follow-up hurricane simulation on the Internet.
The total effort is funded through a four-year $2.475 million National Science Foundation Hazards Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability, known as SEES, grant to study the role of uncertainty in hurricane evacuation decision-making.
The NDSU research team includes Y. Gurt Ge, assistant professor of emergency management and co-principal investigator; Daniel J. Klenow, professor of emergency management and senior personnel on the grant; and graduate research assistants Amanda Savitt and James Hyde. NDSU offers the only emergency management doctoral degree in the United States.
Hurricane Matthew is the first major hurricane to affect the U.S. since 2005.
“A hurricane is a tragic event, but, as scholars, we have the opportunity to contribute new knowledge to better understand uncertainly and the risk factors associated with a mass evacuation for similar future events,” Ge said. “We want to share the findings from an interdisciplinary research team, inform emergency managers and educate the public.”
Part of the research is already underway, with Hyde working closely with the 1,500-member National Weather Association. He is asking meteorologists about the uncertainty they face in forecasting the path of the hurricane and how they communicate information to authorities and the public.
The team is particularly interested in how social media and networks are being used to provide timely, important information about the projected path of the storm. “Back in 2005, Twitter didn’t exist and Facebook was just getting started. The dynamic of information dissemination has completely changed,” said Hyde, who is a master’s student in the program from Annapolis, Maryland.
Other work will begin soon. Klenow will conduct telephone interviews with emergency management personnel in the coastal jurisdictions to learn the decision-making processes prior to, during and after hurricane evacuations. In addition, Savitt will send out a post-hurricane mail survey to about 5,000 affected households to discover how they made decisions and what factors were in play.
“You never want a hurricane, but as a researcher, it’s helpful to put yourself in these people’s shoes,” said Savitt, a doctoral student from Wellesley, Massachusetts. “How would I respond? Who would I talk to? What information do I need?”
The household survey will collect data on intra-family decisions about evacuation, the influence of social networks on the hurricane risk uncertainty and the logistics about evacuation timing, destination, route and mode.
“This is an ambitious project – it is large in scope,” Savitt said.
Collaborators at the other universities include project principal investigator Satish Ukkusuri, civil engineering; Seungyoon Lee, communication; and Milind Kulkarni, electrical and computer engineering, at Purdue University and Pamela Murray-Tuite, civil engineering, from Virginia Tech.
The NSF award abstract number is 1520338.