Evacuating Florida Because of Irma? Ask the Internet

By Paul Riegler on 8 September 2017
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When Hurricane Andrew – the most destructive hurricane to ever hit the state – struck Florida in August 1992, the Internet was a curiosity at best, mostly used by researchers and computer scientists.

Fast forward a quarter of a century and the Internet is playing a major role in hurricane preparedness as Irma – the most potent Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever – barrels towards the United States, with Florida as its intended target.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for all of Monroe County and for parts of Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Pinellas as well as other counties in the area.

Online resources ranging from Twitter to Google to Airbnb have been instrumental in helping millions of people in the storm’s predicted path evacuate. On Google, searches such as “where to go for Irma” have been trending for over a day. Meanwhile, Airbnb activated its Disaster Response Program, thereby allowing Airbnb hosts (those who typically rent their homes or rooms on the service) to open up their homes to those fleeing Irma at no charge. Many such hosts are doing exactly that in the areas outside the evacuation zones.

Airlines of course sell the majority of their tickets online and use algorithms to price fares based on demand. This has come back to bite several airlines, which were accused of price gouging as fares jumped in lockstep with demand. As a result, some one-way tickets that would typically have been under two hundred dollars were being offered for as much as $1,000.

Cognizant of this, four major carriers serving the region, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, and United Airlines, had put price caps in place although few seats were left and many airports in the region are expected to close Friday afternoon.

“Every Florida family must prepare to evacuate regardless of the coast you live on,” said Governor Rick Scott.

Those evacuating by car turned to Apple Maps and Google Maps although traffic was significant on roads leading away from the evacuated areas. One FBT staffer’s mother was en route from Broward County, where mandatory evacuation orders were in place for people who live east of Federal Highway and on barrier islands, to Atlanta, Georgia and reported heavy traffic. Cellphone service was overwhelmed in the region, making it difficult to reach those heading out of the state.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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