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Impact of personal communication networks on emergency evacuation times

Patrick N. Morabito, Michael E. Long, PhD, Bernard P. Brooks, PhD, Jennifer L. Schneider, ScD


Any large-scale anthropogenic or natural disaster, such as a chemical spill, terrorist attack, fire, hurricane, or flooding, impacts human behavior and vehicle movement in the affected area. The response of the affected population is driven by available information about the event. However, inattentiveness to public announcements via vehicle radios, listening to other audio media, and an initial lack of reliable information in the chaotic moments immediately after a disaster will result in an uninformed or misinformed public. For example, the sudden and unannounced nature of a disaster often results in uncertainty with regard to geographic location and extent of the event, resulting in inaccurate information worsened by inattention to public communication. Therefore, the uncertainties and lack of attention to the initial public announcements exacerbate the initial emergency response effort. The question of how the communication network might enhance or diminish the proliferation of information that would facilitate the evacuation of the population must be addressed. Consequently, the authors created a simple model of interpersonal communication via cell phones and their respective personal contact networks to begin a study of the role and impact of information as it passed rapidly through personal communication channels as individuals share in the context of initial repetitive public information during an evolving disaster response. The model demonstrates that increasing the access to mobile phones can significantly improve the speed and degree of success of evacuations.


disaster site evacuation, cell phones

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