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Researchers investigate personal hurricane evacuation decisions

An important question with relevance throughout our region is the focus of a new research collaboration: Why do some people living in the path of a major hurricane decide to evacuate while others stay put?

Prashant Doshi, a professor of computer science, and professor of psychology Adam Goodie are gathering information about residents in areas hit by hurricanes Irma and Harvey to learn more about how people make decisions in risky situations. This will ultimately help officials and emergency personnel better manage evacuations in the future.

"This research will improve our understanding of human decision-making under risk, but we also expect that the insights and models generated by this research will significantly assist hurricane relief and rescue efforts," said Doshi. "It will help the local government target those that are likely to ignore official recommendations, and improve the precision of such efforts."

While the decision to stay put despite warnings and evacuation orders may seem irrational, people that do so are often confident that they made the right choice.

"Numerous interviews clearly convey their conviction in having made the right choice," said Doshi. "We want to identify these decision-making variables and use them to create computational models of individuals in impending disaster areas."

To conduct the study, researchers are collecting data related to individuals in impending disaster areas such as interviews with affected residents as reported by news media; social media posts and messages originating from disaster areas; government data on evacuees' demographics; and a targeted survey.

The project is part of a new batch of NSF-funded research to investigate the effects of recent hurricanes on Georgia, Florida and Texas, surely a signal from the scientific community. Conditions leading to these storms are here to stay, and they have and will continue to touch the lives of tens of millions of people. The collaborative nature of this work between Franklin College faculty from different departments is a great example of leveraged expertise that will produce substantive findings that can hopefully help people (and local government agencies) adjust and better protect themselves. Great work.

Image: Hurricane Irma passing the eastern end of Cuba at about 8:00 a.m. on Sept. 8, 2017. (Credit NOAA/CIRA)

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