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Better methods: The new computer model requires a population to be grouped into different key demographics. It estimates the cost of evacuating each group and the amount of lead time required.

The new software was built using dynamic programming–a technique often employed to solve problems involving uncertainty and parameters that change over time. “It evaluates all the different, possible future outcomes of a decision and then works backwards to make a decision at current time,” says Metzger. Richard Larson, a professor of engineering systems and civil and environmental engineering at MIT and Metzger’s advisor, says that the technique is well proven. For example, similar approaches are used by American Airlines to determine seat pricing and by football coaches to make real-time strategy decisions.

As the system has not yet been tested on a real evacuation scenario, Metzger says that it is difficult to estimate how much time or money it could save. However, Ergun describes the technology as “very impressive.”

Once the data is available, Metzger’s model will be tested against the decisions made by officials during the 2008 hurricane season. Larson says that this will be completed by May 2009, and he believes that the model could be used initially as a training tool. “Just as pilots use flight simulators, if decision makers can go through different scenarios, they are going to be better at it when the real thing happens.”

Ike is expected to make landfall this weekend near Corpus Christi, TX. Texas governor Rick Perry has put 7,500 National Guard members on standby, and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has told residents to start stocking up on supplies as shelters and evacuation transportation is readied.

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Credits: AP Photo/Brian Lawdermilk), Michael Metzger

Tagged: Computing, software, MIT, computer modeling, hurricane models, forecasting

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