A storm plan: New research creates model to help plan for special needs, pet-friendly shelters

Eren Ozguven, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering
Eren Ozguven, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering

Senior citizens often don’t evacuate during major storms because of pets or special needs. Now, a FAMU-FSU College of Engineering researcher has developed a new model for local governments or relief organizations to quickly determine which regular shelters could be repurposed into special needs or pet-friendly shelters.

Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Eren Ozguven and his former graduate student Ayberk Kocatepe published a new paper in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction that focuses on the evacuation and sheltering of populations 85 and older with special needs or pets in South Florida. They collected population data, locations of existing regular, special needs and pet friendly shelters, and roadway network data to create a Geographical Information Systems-based model.

This model could provide information during a given storm about how many shelters are required and which ones should be transformed into a special needs or pet-friendly facility.

“We have chosen to combine looking at older adults with pets as our target group as this represents perhaps one of the most challenging cohorts to accommodate in shelters,” he said. “As people who have pets — which they believe may not be allowed at shelters — often do not want to evacuate, and those older adults are the people most in need of evacuating, this combination of characteristics is indicative of real-world shelter demand.”

Ozguven and his students began looking at this issue after Hurricane Irma in 2017 when government and relief organizations saw a huge demand for special needs shelters. During that storm, several seniors were reluctant to evacuate due to a variety of reasons including pets.

“Pets are a problem easily overlooked by emergency planners but of high concern to older individuals,” Ozguven said.

This particular study focused on South Florida, but Ozguven said he would like to expand the research to include the entire state. With Hurricane Michael this past October, there is a need to look at the Panhandle, he said.

Other authors on this paper include Professor of Geography Mark Horner and Ozguven’s former FAMU-FSU College of Engineering graduate student Hidayet Ozel.

The research was supported through the Center for Accessibility and Safety for an Aging Population and funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.