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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios


About 1.5 million Floridians have moved inland to avoid the wrath of Hurricane Dorian. Such evacuations can be perilous — but in the future, networks of automated vehicles could help shuttle people out of harm's way more efficiently.

The big picture: Two colliding trends will likely make evacuations in this storm-prone population center trickier in the meantime, however. People are moving to south Florida in huge numbers, which will put far more people at risk. And battery-powered AVs and the infrastructure to support them are still a long way off.

Context: Evacuation orders are supposed to keep people safe, but sometimes create their own disasters, as occurred ahead of Hurricane Rita in 2005, when 2.5 million Houston residents tried to flee, only to be trapped by gridlock for up to 20 hours, according to the Houston Chronicle.

  • More than 100 people died in the exodus, some of heatstroke, including 24 nursing home evacuees whose bus caught fire.
  • In Florida, 7 million people tried to escape Hurricane Irma as it marched the length of the state in 2017, leading to traffic jams and related problems.

AVs might help make evacuations more efficient, former Florida emergency management chief Bryan Koon, now a vice president at disaster consulting firm IEM, wrote in a 2018 blog post.

  • Platoons of connected AVs could shuttle groups of people at a time to a safe destination, reducing the number of cars on the road.
  • By communicating with other cars, they could travel faster, and closer together, to maximize traffic flow and reduce traffic-jamming fender benders.
  • Smart cars could also identify less congested routes and even direct people to available shelters or hotels.
  • "If you take the need for drivers out of the equation, you can move 30% more people in the same space, in theory," agrees Louisiana State University professor Brian Wolshon, who has worked with local governments on evacuation planning.

But, but, but: The shift from personal car ownership to shared mobility, and from gasoline engines to electric cars, will be a slow transition that could actually make mass evacuations more difficult, not less so, over the next couple of decades, Koon tells Axios.

  • As EVs proliferate, for example, the number of gas stations will fall and the number of charging stations will rise. But during the changeover "there could be a chance that we don't have enough of either" to handle a large-scale evacuation, he says.
  • As people give up their cars in favor of ride-hailing, it's also possible there won't be enough vehicles to accommodate everyone who needs to flee in an emergency, he says.
  • "We might no longer be able to say, 'Just get in your car and drive away.'"

What to watch: Florida's population is projected to increase by 6 million people, to 26 million, by 2030, with much of the growth in vulnerable coastal regions.

  • Restrictions on growth in the Florida Keys are tied to the county's ability to quickly evacuate people in a hurricane. Other regions could soon face similar limitations, warns Koon.
  • Government leaders need to factor in changing transportation trends, as well as the growing population, when crafting their emergency management plans.

Go deeper: The latest on Dorian

Go deeper

Trump grants flurry of last-minute pardons

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty

President Trump issued 73 pardons and commuted the sentences of 70 individuals early Wednesday, 11 hours from leaving office.

Why it matters: It's a last-minute gift to some of the president's loyalists and an evident use of executive power with only hours left of his presidency. Axios reported in December that Trump planned to grant pardons to "every person who ever talked to me."

Trump revokes ethics order barring former aides from lobbying

Photo: Spencer Platt via Getty

Shortly after pardoning members of Congress and lobbyists convicted on corruption charges, President Trump revoked an executive order barring former officials from lobbying for five years after leaving his administration.

Why it matters: The order, which was signed eight days after he took office, was an attempt to fulfill his campaign promise to "drain the swamp."

  • But with less than 12 hours left in office, Trump has now removed those limitations on his own aides.

Trump pardons former GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy

President Trump has pardoned Elliott Broidy, a former top Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty late last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws as part of a campaign to sway the administration on behalf of Chinese and Malaysian interests.

Why it matters: Broidy was a deputy finance chair for the Republican National Committee early in Trump’s presidency, and attempted to leverage his influence in the Trump administration on behalf of his clients. The president's decision to pardon Broidy represents one last favor for a prominent political ally.