Data Informs Response, Relief After Hurricane Ida

Map reveals shows where people might go, post-storm, and where aid is most needed now.


Hurricane Ida

Dark green areas on the map above indicate where Facebook users impacted by Hurricane Ida have more social connections and greater likelihood of long-term displacement, given that people tend to evacuate to areas where they are socially connected. (Map produced by Facebook Data for Good)

Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana yesterday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds around 150 miles per hour, making landfall on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. One person is confirmed dead and over 1 million are currently without power in Louisiana and Mississippi, after 15 inches of rain deluged New Orleans and storm surge exceeded 9 feet in parts of the state, according to the National Hurricane Center.

In the aftermath of the natural disaster, Direct Relief has analyzed key data points to help public officials and first responders make the most informed decisions as well as to help optimize the delivery of critical medical aid — especially given the widespread power outages, which are particularly dangerous for people who rely on electrical medical devices as well as chronically-ill patients of safety net community health centers.

CrisisReady, a research partnership between Direct Relief and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is analyzing Facebook-provided population movement data to better understand not only which populations might be more at-risk in the aftermath of the storm, but also where they are currently located. According to the anonymized data set, the central and eastern parts of New Orleans have seen the biggest exodus so far, with percentage decreases reaching up to 40%.

The population movement program tracks users who have opted-in to the program via the Facebook App, and then shares anonymized data along with baseline figures from before a natural disaster to help officials and responses organizing understand where populations are smaller and where they are larger. For Hurricane Ida, Facebook has also released the Social Connectedness Index, a map to help predict where evacuees might be heading and perhaps staying as the recovery efforts get underway. The index is partially based on what Facebook refers to as “likely friendships” among its app’s users.

Demographically, CDC social vulnerability data shows 5.3 million residents in areas of the highest impact, of which 1 million are living below the national poverty rate. This is about 7% higher than the estimated national poverty rate of 11.8%, based on a recent University of Chicago study. Compared to high earners, poor adults in the U.S. “are nearly five times as likely to report being in poor or only fair health,” according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded report. Additionally, over 780,000 people in the impacted area are age 65 and older.

Nearly 150,000 households in the area have no vehicle – which, as an example of how the data can be used, highlights the need for first responders and health care providers to plan on providing mobile care options.

In Jefferson Parish and Orleans Parish, the two most populous parishes struck by the storm, and in Orleans there are 153,385 total Medicare beneficiaries, of which 3.8%, equating to 5,921 people, use power-dependent medical devices. This indicates the need to respond with backup power or ways to move vulnerable people to areas where there is power access.

Direct Relief is continuing to analyze the latest available data and is actively responding to requests for aid from its network of local safety-net health care providers.

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