With the arrival of the 2002 hurricane season, nearly 60 million Americans living along our coasts can rest assured that today's forecasting technology will be able to track a storm's path well in advance of landfall.
But when it's time for some of them to evacuate, where they're going to go and how they're going to get there has, until now, been anyone's guess.
When Hurricane Floyd struck the lower Atlantic coast in 1999, more than three million residents of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina fled the coast in the largest evacuation in history. The resulting traffic snarl caused some residents to be trapped inside their vehicles for as long as 24 hours without access to restrooms, gas stations or food. The mass exodus immediately filled temporary shelters and overwhelmed the ability of state and local officials to manage or respond to widespread gridlock.
To keep such problems from occurring again, PBS&J, one of the nation leading design and engineering firms, has created a unique computer model that allows state and federal officials to predict how many residents will evacuate and where they will go. PBS&J's Evacuation Traffic Information System (ETIS) also allows officials to alter usage of specific roadways either by number of lanes or direction. Commissioned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the program makes it possible for communities to do a better job of preparing temporary shelters, food centers, and other facilities for a massive evacuation.
Currently accessible only through state Emergency Operation Centers, the system allows for future enhancements such as remote conversion of highway lanes, overlays of shelter locations, identification of lodging availability, and displays of other related information. Using the system so far are Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Plans are in place for Virginia, Delaware, and Texas to join the system as well.