The role of social media during disasters seems to be growing ever larger. The obvious recent example is during the Boston bombings, where social media was used throughout the event.
A nice example of just how valuable it is has come from a new study into human behaviour during a civil war. Research conducted by the Flowminder Foundation has used mobile phone data to prove how predictable population movements were during the 2011 civil war in the Ivory Coast.
It found that peoples movements during the crisis could be predicted with 88% accuracy. This was no one off, as the results matched well with population movement during the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
This matters, because being able to tell how people will respond to an emergency will massively help the aid effort reach them with the assistance they need.
They tracked 1.9 million sim cards for 42 days prior to the earthquake, and for 158 days after the event to get a good picture of population movement during that time. Their analysis included calculations for the radius of gyration (a measure of the size of trajectories) to estimate how much a subscriber moved, and entropy measures to define the disorder and predictability of an individual’s movements.
Whilst not quite as interesting in an intellectual sense, the infographic below provides a nice overview of how social media is currently being used in disaster response. It highlights the important role it’s playing, whilst the research highlighted earlier is yet more evidence that this role is only going to grow.