As Hurricane Michael approaches Florida’s Gulf Coast, Wake Forest University experts can discuss the use of drones to improve flood forecasting and explain the complicated economics of evacuations.
Using drones for better flood forecasts – Chris Zarzar, a teacher-scholar postdoc in Wake Forest’s environmental studies program, has used drones to study flooding along the gulf coast of Mississippi. Drone technology fills in the gaps of existing imagery and provides updated high-resolution pictures that helped Zarzar reveal a newly formed stream that was responsible for recent flooding in a downstream community. He is working on ways to better communicate flood information and to make better predictions about catastrophic flooding that could happen when storms like Hurricane Michael threaten the coast. “Finding a way to communicate the range of potential flood scenarios rather than a settling on a single flood forecast scenario can help communicate the total risk that a person and their property face, and this will translate to better preparing people for both the best and the worst case scenario,” Zarzar said.
Low Income + No insurance = Sheltering in place in the face of disaster – More than 28 percent of the residents of Madison County, east of Tallahassee, are living below the poverty level. On the Georgia border in Gadsden County, 25 percent of residents live below the poverty level. Both of these areas are in Hurricane Michael’s projected path. “People who are working an hourly job don’t have the flexibility to not show up if they get called in to work,” said Megan Regan, a visiting economics professor at Wake Forest. “A person living paycheck to paycheck who misses a day or two of work may not make their monthly rent. To make matters worse, the poor rely on self-insurance. If they leave their belongings, they have no way to replace them. It’s not that they are making a bad decision to shelter in place. It’s that they face a very different amount of risk. There are very few social support services that recognize the working poor. On average, the lower a person’s resources, the less likely they are to evacuate.”