Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The Pedestrian Evacuation Analyst: geographic information systems software for modeling hazard evacuation potential

September 10, 2014

Recent disasters such as the 2011 Tohoku, Japan, earthquake and tsunami; the 2013 Colorado floods; and the 2014 Oso, Washington, mudslide have raised awareness of catastrophic, sudden-onset hazards that arrive within minutes of the events that trigger them, such as local earthquakes or landslides. Due to the limited amount of time between generation and arrival of sudden-onset hazards, evacuations are typically self-initiated, on foot, and across the landscape (Wood and Schmidtlein, 2012). Although evacuation to naturally occurring high ground may be feasible in some vulnerable communities, evacuation modeling has demonstrated that other communities may require vertical-evacuation structures within a hazard zone, such as berms or buildings, if at-risk individuals are to survive some types of sudden-onset hazards (Wood and Schmidtlein, 2013).

Researchers use both static least-cost-distance (LCD) and dynamic agent-based models to assess the pedestrian evacuation potential of vulnerable communities. Although both types of models help to understand the evacuation landscape, LCD models provide a more general overview that is independent of population distributions, which may be difficult to quantify given the dynamic spatial and temporal nature of populations (Wood and Schmidtlein, 2012). Recent LCD efforts related to local tsunami threats have focused on an anisotropic (directionally dependent) path distance modeling approach that incorporates travel directionality, multiple travel speed assumptions, and cost surfaces that reflect variations in slope and land cover (Wood and Schmidtlein, 2012, 2013).

The Pedestrian Evacuation Analyst software implements this anisotropic path-distance approach for pedestrian evacuation from sudden-onset hazards, with a particular focus at this time on local tsunami threats. The model estimates evacuation potential based on elevation, direction of movement, land cover, and travel speed and creates a map showing travel times to safety (a time map) throughout a hazard zone. Model results provide a general, static view of the evacuation landscape at different pedestrian travel speeds and can be used to identify areas outside the reach of naturally occurring high ground. In addition, data on the size and location of different populations within the hazard zone can be integrated with travel-time maps to create tables and graphs of at-risk population counts as a function of travel time to safety. As a decision-support tool, the Pedestrian Evacuation Analyst provides the capability to evaluate the effectiveness of various vertical-evacuation structures within a study area, both through time maps of the modeled travel-time landscape with a potential structure in place and through comparisons of population counts within reach of safety.

The Pedestrian Evacuation Analyst is designed for use by researchers examining the pedestrian-evacuation potential of an at-risk community. In communities where modeled evacuation times exceed the event (for example, tsunami wave) arrival time, researchers can use the software with emergency managers to assess the area and population served by potential vertical-evacuation options. By automating and managing the modeling process, the software allows researchers to concentrate efforts on providing crucial and timely information on community vulnerability to sudden-onset hazards.