New Study Identifies US Communities with the Most Limited Evacuation Routes

StreetLight Data Analysis Reveals California, Florida, Arizona, Texas, and Washington Lead the US as the Top “Evacuation Risk” States 

The US is now entering peak season for major natural disasters, including wildfires in the West and hurricanes in East. According to recent statistics from CAL FIRE, since January 1, 2018 there have been 3,572 wildfires that have burned more than 245,850 acres in California alone. In comparison, since recording began in the mid-19th century, Florida has been directly hit by over 117 hurricanes, far more than any other state, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In an effort to help towns across the country better prepare (in one small way) for the worst, StreetLight Data, Inc, the leader in Big Data analytics for mobility, today unveiled the results of a new nationwide analysis of the top 100 communities with limited evacuation routes.

Evacuation risk can apply to floods, fires, dam breaks, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other emergencies. Communities and towns with limited evacuation routes can face challenges in getting residents to safety before a disaster hits, as happened in last November’s Camp Fire in Paradise, California.

To help identify the communities and towns most affected by constrained evacuation routes, StreetLight Data analyzed the 30,000 towns in the U.S. with populations under 40,000 (according to U.S. Census data). Incorporating its advanced proprietary machine-learning algorithms, StreetLight then ranked the top 100 by “evacuation risk” from a transportation perspective. Evacuation risk was determined by how many of the location’s daily trips enter and exit the town and via what route(s), adjusted for the number of available exits and overall population.

StreetLight Data’s evacuation route analysis revealed that the five U.S. states with the most evacuation-challenged communities are: 

Florida (20 communities)
California (14 communities)
Arizona (8 communities)
Texas (6 communities)
Washington (6 communities)

The 20 US communities with the most constrained evacuation routes are:

  1. Camano, WA 
  2. Hilton Head Island, SC 
  3. Mercer Island, WA 
  4. Hutchinson Island South, FL 
  5. Sanibel, FL 
  6. Fort Myers Beach, FL 
  7. Carpendale, WV 
  8. Pahrump, NV 
  9. Nahant, MA 
  10. Skidaway Island, GA 
  11. North Bay Village, FL 
  12. South Beach, FL 
  13. Coto de Caza, CA 
  14. Golden Beach, MD 
  15. Six Shooter Canyon, AZ
  16. Immokalee, FL 
  17. Hoyt Lakes, MN
  18. Bell Canyon, CA 
  19. Long Beach, NY
  20. Siesta Key, FL

“As we head into peak season for several types of natural disasters, from fires to hurricanes, there is no better time to review our disaster preparedness across the country,” said Paul Friedman, StreetLight’s Chief Technical Officer, and the study’s key analyst. “Transportation infrastructure, and sharing information about transportation options, is one part of the complex requirements of disaster and evacuation preparation. We hope this data can be a useful support to those working in this challenging field.”

Additional takeaways of the analysis revealed that:

  • 29 states have at least one community on the 100 most-constrained list.
  • The five most-constrained communities are islands.
  • Two of the 10 most-constrained communities are landlocked. One of the three states with the most-at-risk communities is landlocked.
  • While we often think of coastal areas as constrained, many of the 100 most-constrained communities include canyons or localities by lakes with minimal exits.

Click here to view an interactive national map of the communities with the most limited evacuation routes.

The above analysis was conducted in August 2019, based on StreetLight’s proprietary Route Science® data processing engine that transforms trillions of location data points from smart phones and GPS navigation devices in cars and trucks into contextualized, aggregated, and normalized travel patterns. “Main exit load” percentage was determined by what percentage of the population’s daily trips take only one main exit, also taking into account how many other potential exits exist. While several exits may exist, a large percentage of vehicles choose only one preferred route. In addition to highways and larger roads, “exits” may also include dirt roads, ferries, and other secondary options.