Linked Research Article
This Perspective discusses the following new study published in PLoS Medicine:
Bengtsson L, Lu X, Thorson A, Garfield R, von Schreeb J (2011) Improved Response to Disasters and Outbreaks by Tracking Population Movements with Mobile Phone Network Data: A Post-Earthquake Geospatial Study in Haiti. PLoS Med 8(8): e1001083. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001083
Linus Bengtsson and colleagues examine the use of mobile phone positioning data to monitor population movements during disasters and outbreaks, finding that reports on population movements can be generated within twelve hours of receiving data.
Disaster management requires accurate information and must link 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: while important for record-keeping purposes, both are slow and may exclude those groups who are unreachable and most vulnerable. Proxy analysis via aerial or even satellite reconnaissance has a potentially useful role, but can provide only a coarse geographical picture of moving populations. In practice, the most readily available sources of information are from eye-witness or media reports. Although timely, such reports are not accumulated systematically and can constitute a biased representation of events.