How Do Cities Flow in an Emergency? Tracing Human Mobility Patterns during a Natural Disaster with Big Data and Geospatial Data Science

Abstract

Understanding human movements in the face of natural disasters is critical for disaster evacuation planning, management, and relief. Despite the clear need for such work, these studies are rare in the literature due to the lack of available data measuring spatiotemporal mobility patterns during actual disasters. This study explores the spatiotemporal patterns of evacuation travels by leveraging users’ location information from millions of tweets posted in the hours prior and concurrent to Hurricane Matthew. Our analysis yields several practical insights, including the following: (1) We identified trajectories of Twitter users moving out of evacuation zones once the evacuation was ordered and then returning home after the hurricane passed. (2) Evacuation zone residents produced an unusually large number of tweets outside evacuation zones during the evacuation order period. (3) It took several days for the evacuees in both South Carolina and Georgia to leave their residential areas after the mandatory evacuation was ordered, but Georgia residents typically took more time to return home. (4) Evacuees are more likely to choose larger cities farther away as their destinations for safety instead of nearby small cities. (5) Human movements during the evacuation follow a log-normal distribution.

Publication
Urban Science
Elijah Knaap
Elijah Knaap
Associate Director & Senior Research Scientist

My research interests include urban inequality, neighborhood dynamics, spatial data science, regional analysis, and housing & land policy.

Sergio Rey
Sergio Rey
Director and Professor

My research interests include geographic information science, spatial inequality dynamics, regional science, spatial econometrics, and spatial data science.