Transit evacuation planning – Making it work for the next disaster

A lot of attention has been given to the transit evacuation planning in recent times and many researchers have contributed to this field. But Dr. Ashish Kulshrestha, a transportation planning researcher, says, “Despite the attention of the research community, there are critical gaps in modeling and optimizing the use of public transportation during evacuation”. He strives to fill that gap with his doctoral research done at the University of Florida.

Natural and man-made disasters result in unfortunate events and affect millions of people every year. According to Dr. Kulshrestha, lack of planning to evacuate carless residents, particularly low-income, elderly, minority, and disabled people, during such disasters was the motivation behind his research. He says, “Such residents rely on the public transportation system to take them to safe locations during evacuation and inherently face higher risk during the disaster.

“My research was instrumental in providing sophisticated analytical tools to help make informed decisions about the optimal locations of public shelters during an evacuation, optimal transit pick-up locations for evacuees to assemble and such”.

Kulshrestha explains that some of the problems he worked on are very critical for a successful transit evacuation planning. Due to the chaotic nature of mass evacuation, emergency planning officials are always uncertain of the number of evacuees who are going to use public transportation. It’s been well recognized (post Hurricane Katrina and Rita debacle) that ignoring the uncertainties during mass evacuations have led to the significant failures in the past.

“The uniqueness of my research was that we incorporated this uncertainty into the developed models and proposed evacuation plans that are cost-effective and reliable in the face of demand uncertainty,” he explained.

In a 2011 journal article, Kulshrestha proposed a robust approach for determining optimal locations of public shelters during evacuation. He was able to demonstrate that his proposed model is robust and will be more effective in real-world transit evacuations. “This research was done with the support and funding of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Transportation Research Center (TRC) at the University of Florida,” he said.

“When the evacuation orders are released, it is assumed that transit-dependent evacuees from different residential locations will assemble at designated pick-up locations. However, most of the published evacuation plans for cities do not specify those pick-up locations,” said Kulshrestha, highlighting another critical gap. He further adds “all the previous evacuation studies in the literature typically assumed that the pick-up locations for transit are always known”.

In another paper he published in 2014, Dr. Kulshrestha proposed a solution to address this critical gap. He proposed a model that determines the optimal location of pick-up points for evacuees to assemble and optimal allocation of buses to transport these evacuees. “This was the first study, to the best of my knowledge, to develop an analytical approach to address this problem”, explained Kulshrestha.

Dr. Kulshrestha has presented his research at many prestigious conferences and his work has attracted significant attention in the United States and worldwide. Kulshrestha hopes that his contributions and contributions of fellow researchers in the field of transit evacuation planning “would allow the emergency management agencies to efficiently plan and carry out an evacuation, optimally utilizing the available resources while leaving no citizen behind in future”.

Dr. Ashish Kulshrestha has been researching the field of transportation planning for over a decade. He holds a B.Tech in Civil Engineering from the IIT Delhi, and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering with a major in Transportation Engineering from the University of Florida. Currently, Dr. Kulshrestha works as a Principal Technical Specialist at WSP USA where he conducts research for developing and implementing advanced travel models for various State Department of Transportation and Transportation Planning Agencies across the US.

Image courtesy of Pic source: Dr. Kulshrestha

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