Google is partnering with the National Hurricane Center to create a searchable map of areas at risk of storm surges during hurricanes. Users can plug in their address and determine how threatened (if at all) their homes are by surges of water that accompany hurricanes—surges that proved deadly during Hurricane Katrina. Google hopes to have the application online by June 1, just in time for the start of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.
The National Hurricane Center says the idea for the map came from the overwhelming number of phone calls made to local weather and emergency information lines during the last few hurricane seasons: residents wanted to know what flood levels would be like at their homes. Hurricane forecasters have long had a computer model that estimates storm surge height, which is based on wind speed, hurricane strength, and trajectory, but only now will this information be available to the public directly.
Though this online tool will definitely help people get specialized information on storm surge risk for their own geographic location, I worry that it may not do much to help those who need the most help during hurricanes: the elderly. Post-Katrina evacuation analysis shows that those least likely to evacuate—even with clear instructions to do so from the mayor—were the elderly. Three-quarters of the people who died during Katrina were older than age 60. With some luck, though, younger internet users will be able to get themselves, and hopefully their older family members and neighbors out of harm's way.
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from GISuser.