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Cell GPS data can help predict where people will run after an earthquake




A resident and a cameraman look at damage to the Kaiser Permanente Building following the Northridge earthquake, on January 17, 1994. The earthquake measured 6.6 on the Richter scale and was centered in the San Fernando Valley.
A resident and a cameraman look at damage to the Kaiser Permanente Building following the Northridge earthquake, on January 17, 1994. The earthquake measured 6.6 on the Richter scale and was centered in the San Fernando Valley.
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You probably have an idea of where you might run when the big one strikes.

After the shaking subsides, maybe you'll head to your parents' house to make sure they're okay, jet over to the hospital for medical attention or even put the kids in the car and head out of the area for a while.

But wherever you go, will the roads be jammed because everyone else is doing the same thing?

Research out of the University of Tokyo is using cell phone GPS data to map out where people go to in the middle of a disaster.

 

 

"There are all these lines of GPS coordinates rushing towards the center of [Tokyo]," says Sydney Brownstone who writes about this in Fast Company.

Data was taken from phones on the day that a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan.

"When the earthquake strikes at around 2:46 p.m., everything just kind of evaporates suddenly," she says. "Then the movement networks pick up again very slowly."

Professor Xuan Song at the University of Tokyo was able to track people's movements hours and days after the quake. Some jammed roads and railways to head to their hometowns, workplaces or government shelters.

"Potentially, information like this could help urban planners, transportation officials set up something like shuttles if they know that a lot of people are going to be heading out of the city," says Brownstone.

She adds that future research could help disaster recovery efforts, and identify paths in which to establish supply distribution points and the best routes into a heavily affected zone with casualties.

However, it will take more time for this information to be applied in the real world.

"With Professor Song's model, he'd have to wait until another earthquake comes along to truly prove whether this is something that can be used," says Brownstone.