Penn professor simulates next Sandy scenario

The next time a hurricane barrels towards the mid-Atlantic, will you take a proactive approach or a wait-and-see attitude?

A University of Pennsylvania professor has helped develop a program called “Stormview simulation” that could help people better prepare in the event of another storm like Sandy.

The simulation, which takes about 30 minutes, asks users to assume they live in Florida and takes them through the days leading up to a fictional Hurricane Gabrielle. Users can choose how they would get information about the storm — television, radio, web reports or neighbors — and whether they would prepare.

“The idea was to say if we can’t study storms in the real world … why not go ahead and study them in a lab situation,” said Wharton School of Business marketing professor Robert Meyer, who worked with professors from the University of Miami and Columbia University to develop the tool, which took six months to complete. The Daily Pennsylvanian first reported on the simulation Monday.

Meyer said researchers surveyed area residents before superstorm Sandy last month, but with the simulation researchers can get a better understanding of how people would actually behave based on certain information.

Researchers have learned a few lessons already from 400 people who’ve gone through the simulation, according to Meyer. One of the lessons is that people primarily rely on television news reports.

Meyer said the creators are in the process of trying use the technology to study preparedness for other sorts of hazards, such as wildfires and earthquakes. They have also talked with the National Hurricane Center and Federal Emergency Management Agency about putting the simulation on their website as a teaching tool for the public.

“Hurricanes are things which people just don’t think about a lot,” he said. “The hope would be that they become more interested consumers of the forecast products that the National Weather Service puts out and that they really attend to it.”

Sandy on their minds

If the East Coast were to see another tropical storm like Sandy, Meyer said the reaction from residents would likely depend on how they were affected by the October storm.

“It kind of will depend on what happened to you in Sandy,” he said. “What we do know is that people who had been through Irene and nothing happened to them – they went through the storm, their power went off for a couple hours and that’s it — when the next storm comes you tend to think hurricanes are no big deal.”

If another storm didn’t arrive until next fall, the reactions would likely be even less.

“People have pretty short memories,” he said. “There would still be a signal, but it would tend to be a pretty weak signal.”

Women more concerned

Based on the simulation, researchers observed some interesting patterns:

> Those with higher income and more education typically used online reports more than those with lower income and less education.

> Older people typically relied on television, while younger people tended to use a variety of media.

> Women typically gathered more information than men.

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