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How can mobile data improve emergency response?

How can mobile data improve emergency response?

Disaster management requires accurate information and must link mobile data collection and analysis to an immediate decision-making process. Existing approaches to assessing population movements in the immediate aftermath of disasters such as transport surveys and manual registration of individuals at emergency-relief hubs are often inadequate. However, they are important for record-keeping purposes.


The lack of timely and accurate information about movement and communications of affected populations can limit the effectiveness of the humanitarian response. However, the growing ubiquity of mobile phones has revealed new opportunities for accessing such information. Real-time mobile phone data can provide valuable insights into the behaviour of affected populations during a disaster.


Professor David Laser, who holds joint appointments in the Department of Political Science and the College of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern, wants to use these data to better understand how we use our social networks during the time of crisis. Professor Laser and his group have developed an app for the purpose. The central idea is to see with whom people communicate. This will help in finding out whether people were able to get the resources and emotional support they needed.


This app will first ask participants a series of multiple-choice questions. It will want to know who you were with when you heard the news. It will then reach into the phone’s call logs to identify the most frequently contacted people in the hours.


The effort could afford a better understanding of how information diffuses through society. This will, thus, enable better emergencies in the future. Additionally, with enough data like this, they hope one day they would be able to use social interaction patterns on devices and media to detect and possibly even predict emergency situations.


Gurbani Gandhi