Engineering researchers receive $500,000 NSF grant to study hurricane hazards and evacuation

hurricane hazards and evacuation

Hurricane tracks can be erratic. Sometimes storms change directions, they wobble, or move in an unpredictable path that can pose unique challenges for evacuees. 

Now, two FAMU-FSU College of Engineering faculty members have received a $500,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop several models that address integrated coastal hazards and how the uncertainty of a hurricane track can affect evacuation practices. 

Wenrui Huang, professor of civil and environmental engineering and principal investigator, and Eren Ozguven, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, are looking at integrated coastal hazard modeling (wind, storm surge and wave) as well as massive evacuation modeling to provide emergency management officials with realistic data needed to determine hurricane evacuation routes. 

They also want to design and implement a geographic information system (GIS)-based network methodology to optimally locate hurricane shelters and maximize the accessibility and capacity of existing hurricane shelters. 

“By using analytics we can measure real-life conditions and compare predictions of hurricane tracks and storm surges,” Ozguven said. “We also want to connect population demand to the equation.” 

State emergency management officials have long encountered difficult evacuation scenarios when large hurricane have hit Florida. Last year, for example, during the leadup to Hurricane Irma, the direction of the hurricane changed multiple times leaving evacuees scrambling to get out of the way of the storm. This resulted in terrible traffic congestion and dangerous road conditions. 

“The knowledge gained from this project will improve our understanding of emergency transportation operations and contribute to the development of new disaster-related policies and plans for local and state governments.” Ozguven said.

The grant also includes an educational component for College of Engineering students. Students who are a part of the research will get to participate in the NSF’s Excellence in Research Undergraduate Program, which works to broaden research participation in underrepresented minority populations. 

“Our students will have opportunities to engage in research activities, conferences and be able to contribute to a well-educated multidisciplinary workforce in our rapidly changing world,” Huang said. 

The grant was funded through NSF to Florida A&M University for the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. The institution is the joint college of engineering for both Florida A&M and Florida State universities.