Minimizing Gridlock and Improving Public Safety During an Emergency Evacuation

In any evacuation scenario, congestion is what restricts the ability of people (cars) to move away from danger. We’re all familiar with typical rush hour, which impedes the mobility of individual vehicles and significantly slows the overall flow of traffic. This phenomenon is compounded by events of mass mobilization, such as during an evacuation due to a hurricane or other event. In an evacuation all traffic is essentially trying to leave via two or three major highways, which quickly become completely gridlocked.

One of the oldest and largest independent, non-profit, applied research and development organizations in the US sought to understand the system-level effects on traffic during an evacuation event when some percentage of the vehicles within the traffic system were connected via a communication mechanism, such as a smartphone or a dedicated short range communication (DSRC) radio, which is the type of device required for the USDOT connected vehicle program.

This work was approached using agent-based and system dynamics modeling tools and techniques. The research and development organization explored possible mechanisms for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication during an evacuation event that will improve the overall performance of the traffic system, and reduce hazards for individual drivers.

The communication systems would essentially provide alternate route choices that enable the vehicle to avoid the apparent threat and decrease system-wide congestion. Ultimately, improving performance of a traffic system will increase public safety during an event where much more demand is placed on the system than it is designed for.

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