Research Team Uses Math To Help Allocate Resources During Natural Disasters
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New research by a team led by an engineering professor at Northeastern University has found that a mathematical model can predict human movement during natural disasters.

The research team looked at events like the COVID-19 pandemic, Hurricane Dorian, and the Kincade Wildfire to predict patterns of human movement and used anonymous information from 90 million Americans to create the mathematical model used during the study.

According to Qi Ryan Wang, an associate professor of environmental and civil engineering at Northeastern University, the findings from this research study can help governments and emergency responders properly allocate resources during a range of disasters.

What Did The Research Team Find?

The research team led by Wang looked at people’s mobility behavior during six major disasters, and their findings discovered a disparity in movement between economic groups. They concluded that those with little means are exposed to more risk during natural disasters like diseases.

For example, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, people that lived in poorer neighborhoods left home more frequently because they were essential workers and because they did not have the ability to stock up on water and food for days and weeks like wealthier individuals and families.

These communities also did not have access to emergency generators and other important technologies. In an interview published on Northeastern’s news platform, Wang stated similar mobility patterns were observed during weather-related disasters.

This need for access to food, water, and other supplies during emergencies is one of the reasons experts tell people to keep survival bags in their homes full of non-perishable foods, water bottles, and medical supplies.

According to ExpressVPN’s emergency survival article, people are also meant to store different tech products in their emergency bags, such as satellite phones, medical flash drives, and portable power banks. When you have these bags already in place, you can limit how many times you leave the house for food, water, and essentials.

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How Will This Information Help Governments and Emergency Responders?

According to Wang, governments and emergency responders can use this information on human mobility during disasters to better understand resource allocation and which communities need to be helped first. Understanding this will help institutions produce more effective responses to disasters like diseases, earthquakes, and wildfires. 

The Northeastern News board also said the research study touched on the concept of temporal decay, which refers to when people’s attention moves away from certain information or situations as time passes. This phenomenon occurred as the COVID-19 pandemic moved into its second year, and governments can remember this when implementing year-long restrictions and regulations.

As per Access Partnership, the annual number of natural disasters is projected to increase by 37% (541 occurrences) by 2025. With rising concerns over floods, earthquakes, sinkholes, and diseases, it is more important than ever that Wang and his research team have provided a human mobility model that will help governments and emergency respondents better allocate resources and supplies during these events.

Highlights from the study found that less wealthy communities are at greater risk of exposure to events like diseases because they don’t have the freedom to work from home or stock up on supplies; this information is crucial if another pandemic ever arises.

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