The warnings were grim with this storm. As Hurricane Matthew was moving through the Caribbean with deadly effect, Florida Governor Rick Scott was already warning residents of the state that they needed to leave the low-lying areas in the eastern parts of the state. If people didn’t leave, he said, “This storm will kill you. It’s a monster, get out.”
Scott was not alone in his warnings. In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley was also warning residents to leave low-lying areas. “This is a storm we want to take seriously,” she said, “There is nothing safe about what is getting ready to happen,” she said urging residents to evacuate. Later, news photos showed all lanes on Interstate highways leaving South Carolina’s coastal areas filled with cars. Clearly, people were listening.
But the next question always has to be how complete the evacuation was. People who refuse to leave an evacuated area cause significant problems for themselves and for the first responders who are also staying behind. First, they may die, which isn’t a good thing. But more likely, those people will find that they underestimated the fury of the storm, and will demand to be rescued. This scenario plays out in every major storm, and the onslaught of Hurricane Matthew was no exception.
However, even if you can’t make everyone leave an area, it at least helps to have some idea how many people stayed behind, and approximately where they are. This is where Mogean Inc. comes in. The company uses location services data from mobile phones to develop geolocation data and produce predictive analytics that can provide products and services to consumers.
But when the hurricane started to crush its way toward the United States, Mogean’s executives decided to put the location data they were collecting to use in helping with the emergency. The task they gave themselves was to determine what areas under evacuation orders were actually evacuated, and which were not.
As the storm grew closer, Mogean’s staff started to see patterns. Some areas in Florida and South Carolina were making good progress in evacuating their citizens, but some were not. If state leaders had access to this data, they’d know where to concentrate their efforts and where their efforts were already working.
“We can create a bread crumb trail from mobile apps,” Mogean co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Reid Maulsby said. He explained that they were able to get the location data from those mobile apps, which include a wide variety of sports and entertainment apps on iOS and Android cell phones, and use that data to determine where and when people were moving.
Explaining that Mogean receives no personal information, Maulsby said that the company’s data sets can still tell where people go. “We can identify where people spend time, where they work and live. We can compare that with data from the National Weather Service and information on mandatory evacuations.”
Maulsby said that the company can only read the data from phone users who have allowed location services on their devices, but he said that this is enough to determine trends showing how many people are leaving an area and where they’re going.
Using Big Data to Track Hurricane Evacuations
CEO Matt Reilly said that Mogean already has a baseline for most areas because the company has already been collecting data, and as a result, they can take a look at where people were the week before, and contrast that with where they are now. Reilly also noted that the Mogean data analysis engine can use that location data to find out where new points of interest are.
Those new points of interest might be choke points on evacuation routes. The data can also show where evacuees are going so that state authorities can be ready for an influx of people who will need services and other help.
Of course, Mogean doesn’t base its business on the public service it provides (at no cost) during emergencies. The company’s real work is determining consumer behavior. “We can tell a restaurant owner where the people who drive past his restaurant are going,” Reilly said. He pointed out that under normal circumstances, companies use his services in conjunction with their marketing efforts, and so they can reach potential customers without annoying them.
But Reilly said that Mogean does have one other unexpected capability that may be useful to emergency management authorities. He said that the company can track people during an emergency who are in areas that have been evacuated, but who don’t live or work in those areas. He said that while it’s possible that those people who appear in evacuated areas are there to help, he thinks there’s another explanation. Those people, he said, are probably looters.
The big gap between having the information that Mogean has and using it to do some good during an emergency lies in getting the information to the people who can use it. Maulsby said that the company is going to continue to refine its capabilities for providing big data analysis during emergencies. He just hopes the company can find someone who can use it.