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Problem Title: Escaping a Hurricane's Wrath (An Ill Wind...)

  Year: 2001      
  Student Level: Undergraduate      
  Source: MCM      
  Commentary: Yes (1)      
  Student Papers: Yes (6)      

Evacuating the coast of South Carolina ahead of the predicted landfall of Hurricane Floyd in 1999 led to a monumental traffic jam. Traffic slowed to a standstill on Interstate I-26, which is the principal route going inland from Charleston to the relatively safe haven of Columbia in the center of the state. What is normally an easy two-hour drive took up to 18 hours to complete. Many cars simply ran out of gas along the way. Fortunately, Floyd turned north and spared the state this time, but the public outcry is forcing state officials to find ways to avoid a repeat of this traffic nightmare.

The principal proposal put forth to deal with this problem is the reversal of traffic on I-26, so that both sides, including the coastal-bound lanes, have traffic headed inland from Charleston to Columbia. Plans to carry this out have been prepared (and posted on the Web) by the South Carolina Emergency Preparedness Division. Traffic reversal on principal roads leading inland from Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head is also planned.

A simplified map of South Carolina is shown. Charleston has approximately 500,000 people, Myrtle Beach has about 200,000 people, and another 250,000 people are spread out along the rest of the coastal strip. (More accurate data, if sought, are widely available.)

The interstates have two lanes of traffic in each direction except in the metropolitan areas where they have three. Columbia, another metro area of around 500,000 people, does not have sufficient hotel space to accommodate the evacuees (including some coming from farther north by other routes), so some traffic continues outbound on I-26 towards Spartanburg; on I-77 north to Charlotte; and on I-20 east to Atlanta. In 1999, traffic leaving Columbia going northwest was moving only very slowly. Construct a model for the problem to investigate what strategies may reduce the congestion observed in 1999. Here are the questions that need to be addressed:

  1. Under what conditions does the plan for turning the two coastal-bound lanes of I-26 into two lanes of Columbia-bound traffic, essentially turning the entire I-26 into one-way traffic, significantly improve evacuation traffic flow?
  2. In 1999, the simultaneous evacuation of the state's entire coastal region was ordered. Would the evacuation traffic flow improve under an alternative strategy that staggers the evacuation, perhaps county-by-county over some time period consistent with the pattern of how hurricanes affect the coast?
  3. Several smaller highways besides I-26 extend inland from the coast. Under what conditions would it improve evacuation flow to turn around traffic on these?
  4. What effect would it have on evacuation flow to establish more temporary shelters in Columbia, to reduce the traffic leaving Columbia?
  5. In 1999, many families leaving the coast brought along their boats, campers, and motor homes. Many drove all of their cars. Under what conditions should there be restrictions on vehicle types or numbers of vehicles brought in order to guarantee timely evacuation?
  6. It has been suggested that in 1999 some of the coastal residents of Georgia and Florida, who were fleeing the earlier predicted landfalls of Hurricane Floyd to the south, came up I-95 and compounded the traffic problems. How big an impact can they have on the evacuation traffic flow?
  7. Clearly identify what measures of performance are used to compare strategies. Required: Prepare a short newspaper article, not to exceed two pages, explaining the results and conclusions of your study to the public.

Clearly identify what measures of performance are used to compare strategies.

Required: Prepare a short newspaper article, not to exceed two pages, explaining the results and conclusions of your study to the public.


Judge's Commentary: The Outstanding Hurricane Evacuation Papers

Mark Parker
Department of Mathematics, Engineering, and Computer Science
Carroll College

  Student Papers      

Project H.E.R.O.: Hurricane Evacuation Route Optimization

Bethel College, St. Paul, MN


Traffic Flow Models and the Evacuation Problem

Duke University, Durham, NC


The Crowd Before the Storm

Maggie L. Walker Governor's School, Richmond, VA


Jammin' with Floyd: A Traffic Flow Analysis of South Carolina Hurricane Evacuation

Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, CA


Blowin' in the Wind

Lawrence Technological University, South├×eld, MI


Please Move Quickly and Quietly to the Nearest Freeway

Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC