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UH Cullen College Industrial Engineering Paper on Mass Evacuation Receives International Recognition
Rashda Khan
Professor Gino Lim and his doctoral student Ayda Darvishan with a poster about their emergency evacuation project.
Professor Gino Lim and his doctoral student Ayda Darvishan with a poster about their emergency evacuation project.

Paper Published in Two IISE Publications

Industrial engineers make things and systems better for people. In Gino Lim’s case, it can involve reliable mass evacuation planning in situations of critical emergencies.

“A reliable evacuation plan is key to successful mass evacuation,” said Lim, a professor and chair of the industrial engineering department at the UH Cullen College of Engineering and Hari and Anjali Agrawal Faculty Fellow.

Houston has dealt with numerous disasters, including hurricanes and flooding, and knows well the value of emergency planning. Events such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita in 2005, and Hurricane Harvey in 2017 made the national news and continue to haunt Houstonians. These disasters resulted in lives being lost and billions of dollars in property damage.

Sometimes, the disaster can take the form of massive, grueling traffic congestion as people attempt to flee an area under threat.

Rita coming a few weeks behind Katrina resulted in 3.7 million people attempting to leave the Houston area – the largest evacuation in U.S. history according to PBS. The news reported jammed up traffic stretched for over 100 miles, cars ran dry and abandoned vehicles littered shoulder lanes in 100-degree heat. Worse, dozens of people died from heat stroke, traffic accidents and a bus fire.

Lim, his doctoral student Ayda Darvishan and his former doctoral student Mukesh Rungta (MSEE '09, Ph.D. IE '12), now with the international company AirLiquide, have been working with engineers at the City of Houston and Texas Transportation Institute to better understand traffic congestion triggered by mass evacuation in the Greater Houston Area.

Their work has resulted in a paper that was published by the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE) in two of its prestigious publications. It appeared in the June 2019 issue of IISE Transactions and was also featured in the Research section of the institute’s Industrial and Systems Engineer magazine.

“When an evacuation is called for, not all residents agree to evacuate for various reasons. Hence, evacuation demand estimates are usually based on expert judgment, which can lead to difficulties in forming a reliable estimate of the associated demand distribution, creating inconsistencies in estimation,” said Lim, who has created efficient evacuation routes with Harris County and Houston Transtar.

Titled “A robust chance constraint programming approach for evacuation planning under uncertain demand distribution,” the paper focuses on an evacuation planning problem where the number of actual evacuees (demand) is unknown. It then develops a comprehensive network flow-based evacuation planning approach to address demand uncertainty not only for the case that mean and variance of demand distribution are known, but also for the case that additional information – such as the demand uncertainty with symmetry and/or support information – are available.

Using this additional information, the authors prove that tighter bounds can be achieved on evacuation clearance time while providing an optimal evacuation plan with essential information like route selection, time to evacuate, and how many cars should each evacuation path accommodate at each time interval during the course of evacuation.

“In an emergency situation, time is of the essence,” Lim said.

In the email notifying Lim and his co-authors about the acceptance of their work, IISE Transactions’ Editor-in-Chief Jianjun Shi wrote: “The intent is to highlight your contribution and its potential impact on professional practice.”

To read the article, please visit here

The IISE is the world's largest professional society dedicated solely to the support of the industrial engineering profession and individuals involved with improving quality and productivity. Founded in 1948, IISE is an international, nonprofit association that provides knowledge, training, networking opportunities and recognition to enhance the skills and effectiveness of its members, customers and the profession.

For more information about IISE, visit the IISE website at

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