Public Evacuation Decisions and Hurricane Track Uncertainty
Public officials with the authority to order hurricane evacuations face a difficult trade-off between risks to life and costly false alarms. Evacuation decisions must be made on the basis of imperfect information, in the form of forecasts. The quality of these decisions can be improved if they are also informed by measures of uncertainty about the forecast, including estimates of the value of waiting for updated, more accurate, forecasts. Using a stochastic model of storm motion derived from historic tracks, this paper explores the relationship between lead time and track uncertainty for Atlantic hurricanes and the implications of this relationship for evacuation decisions. Typical evacuation clearance times and track uncertainty imply that public officials who require no more than a 10% probability of failing to evacuate before a striking hurricane (a false negative) must accept that at least 76%--and for some locations over 90%--of evacuations will be false alarms. Reducing decision lead times from 72 to 48 hours for major population centers could save an average of hundreds of millions of dollars in evacuation costs annually, with substantial geographic variation in savings.
Volume (Year): 54 (2008)
Issue (Month): 1 (January)
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