Newswise — Sept. 7, 2017 -- Large-scale evacuations during severe storms like Hurricane Irma cause ripple effects that clog and stall transportation and communications infrastructure, says a Virginia Tech expert.

“People drop what they’re doing to seek a secure location and they get on their phones to start checking in on family and loved ones,” said Madhav Marathe, a researcher at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech.

“Most also follow orders to evacuate.​This can lead to ‘flash-congestion’ on both our transportation and communication networks because suddenly we have a high density of people stuck on the same roads, accessing the same cell towers, trying to reach out and assess their situation. ​Of course, authorities can mitigate the congestion to some extent by scheduling the evacuations and changing lane directions.”

As Florida residents and others on the East Coast brace for one of the most powerful hurricanes in history, Marathe is available to comment on evacuations, road congestion, communication systems, and human behavior during a large scale disaster. 

Quoting Marathe

On social response to evacuation orders: “Prior severe weather experience is a consistent predictor of an individual’s response to future events. Those who have lived through a previous hurricanes use past experience and available current information ​to make more accurate assessments on the potential impact. From a social standpoint, evacuation can also prove contagious. We call it ‘herding’ behavior. If individuals observe people around them evacuating, their risk perception heightens and they’re more likely to follow the same behavior often overriding their original plans.”

On recovery efforts and communication: “The ability to gain access to functional telecommunications is imperative to the safety of people in the affected areas. Communicating relevant information allows a passive individual to become an active first responder. It allows them to make informed decisions to help themselves, safely assist those around them and navigate the safest routes out of the devastation. We have also found, when informed about the safety of their loved ones, individuals are less likely to take risks or make dangerous decisions.”

On rebuilding post-disaster: ​“There are a number of long-term issues that arise as well, for a potential reasons, including citizens and business seeking alternate locations to relocate due their risk perception of a future event or the economic hardships they might face in rebuilding. Government policies might ​actively promote rezoning and incentivize more sustainable development and topographical and structural changes to the area, that might ​make rebuilding hard or in some cases impossible.​”

About Marathe

As a lead researcher at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech, Madhav Marathe oversees the development of highly scalable algorithms for modeling and analyzing network data. Applications of this work range from social networks to computational epidemiology. As director of the institute’s Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory (NDSSL), he continues to be a driving force behind collaborations with such government sponsors as the NIH, NSF, and the DoD. Those partnerships allow the institute’s research to support policymakers in solving real-world problems. More here.

To secure an interview with Marathe, please contact Shannon Andrea in the media relations office at [email protected] or 703-399-9494. 

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