Quantifying human mobility perturbation and resilience in Hurricane Sandy

PLoS One. 2014 Nov 19;9(11):e112608. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112608. eCollection 2014.

Abstract

Human mobility is influenced by environmental change and natural disasters. Researchers have used trip distance distribution, radius of gyration of movements, and individuals' visited locations to understand and capture human mobility patterns and trajectories. However, our knowledge of human movements during natural disasters is limited owing to both a lack of empirical data and the low precision of available data. Here, we studied human mobility using high-resolution movement data from individuals in New York City during and for several days after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. We found the human movements followed truncated power-law distributions during and after Hurricane Sandy, although the β value was noticeably larger during the first 24 hours after the storm struck. Also, we examined two parameters: the center of mass and the radius of gyration of each individual's movements. We found that their values during perturbation states and steady states are highly correlated, suggesting human mobility data obtained in steady states can possibly predict the perturbation state. Our results demonstrate that human movement trajectories experienced significant perturbations during hurricanes, but also exhibited high resilience. We expect the study will stimulate future research on the perturbation and inherent resilience of human mobility under the influence of hurricanes. For example, mobility patterns in coastal urban areas could be examined as hurricanes approach, gain or dissipate in strength, and as the path of the storm changes. Understanding nuances of human mobility under the influence of such disasters will enable more effective evacuation, emergency response planning and development of strategies and policies to reduce fatality, injury, and economic loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cyclonic Storms*
  • Disasters*
  • Human Migration / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • New York City

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.JV577

Grant support

This study is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1142379. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Open access publication of this article was supported by Virginia Tech's Open Access Subvention Fund. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.