When a natural disaster happens, the impact can ripple beyond the epicenter in many different ways. Businesses can shut down and threaten the livelihood of business owners, food and water can become scarce, and property damage can leave countless people with anywhere to go. While the aftermath of a natural disaster can be incredibly difficult to navigate, new research shows location-based data could aid in recovery efforts.

New Data Could Aid in Natural Disaster Recovery

As natural disasters continue to crop up across the nation and around the world, many have begun to look into how recovery methods can be improved. Recently, researchers at Texas A&M University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering developed a framework with which to review the recovery of various communities after natural disasters in real-time. This framework was established by analyzing the behavior patterns of those impacted by Hurricane Harvey as they gained access to essential resources like medical centers and grocery stores. Those involved in the study believe the information gained from their analysis could aid federal agencies in more effective methods of allocating resources among communities that suffer major disasters like Harvey.

According to those involved with the study, much of the need for more effective means of resource allocation comes from how drastically different some neighboring communities can be affected by a disaster. For example, with Hurricane Harvey, large areas of Houston experienced immense amounts of flooding, while some neighboring communities saw nearly no flooding. Because neighboring communities can be impacted so differently after a natural weather event, it’s important to be able to identify the areas that can recover more quickly, so resources can be allocated to the areas that need them the most.

To accurately measure these factors, the study utilized a metric called resilience, which is conventionally used to quantify how communities bounce back from nature-related setbacks. Resilience is defined as the ability of a community to return to its pre-disaster state. To measure resilience, researchers examined factors like the accessibility and distribution of resources, the connection between residents within an impacted community, and the level of community preparedness for an unforeseen natural disaster. This data is often obtained through the use of surveys with questions related to how and to what extent businesses or residential areas were affected by a natural disaster and their stage of recovery.

While the surveys are effective, one of their major drawbacks is the amount of time they take. For the federal agencies that allocate disaster relief funds, this information needs to be available faster, in near real-time fashion – especially for the areas most significantly impacted. To do this, researchers looked to emerging sources of data that could provide more granular insights into community recovery, such as information collected by companies that track visits to locations within a designated area from anonymous cell phone data. The researchers utilized data from SafeGraph to obtain location-based information for those in Harris County around the timeframe of Hurricane Harvey.

In using this data, they were able to pinpoint various points of interest that correlated to locations often frequented before and after a disaster. These include hospitals, gas stations, grocery stores, and others that could experience a change in traffic. The data was then mined to obtain a number related to visits to each point of interest before and during the storm. They then calculated the time it took for the visits to return to pre-disaster levels for each point of interest, which combined determined a community’s resilience. Their findings showed communities that experienced low resilience had more flooding; however, the results also noted the level of impact does not always correlate with recovery.

There were areas where visits dropped significantly but also recovered quickly, while other less impacted areas took much longer to recover, indicating the importance of time and resilience in evaluating community-based recovery. Additionally, areas that are close to those with major flooding were also impacted, which suggests the spatial reach of flooding extends beyond immediately flooded areas.

Despite the study’s focus on Hurricane Harvey, researchers believe this framework can be utilized for any other natural disaster.

The Difficulties of Natural Disaster Recovery

In the wake of a natural disaster, business owners can be under an immense amount of stress due to a variety of factors, such as the direct economic loss that may follow. Being fully aware of the potential problems that can arise after a disaster can make natural disaster recovery a much smoother and faster process.

For instance, after a major hurricane or flood, many areas that are still inundated with floodwater are often also contaminated with hazardous materials and/or raw sewage. Additionally, when these waters flood a property, they can quickly cause mold and structural damage. Business and commercial property owners may face challenges if there is not an adequate inventory of materials and documents that are kept salvageable, as this is essential to a business’s recovery process. Business owners can also face supply chain problems such as delays in delivery and processing.

With regard to a tornado, the main challenge lies in the fact that it is incredibly difficult to pinpoint when one will occur and where it will strike. This leaves some business owners with only minutes to prepare for potential power losses, structural damage, water contamination, and property destruction.

Lastly, as many business owners saw with Winter Storm Uri, severe winter weather can present a multitude of challenges for business and commercial property owners to navigate. Electricity and heating losses can occur, leading to burst pipes and flooding that can destroy buildings, property, and important documents. Closed roads can directly impact a business as there is no way for employees to return to work and no means for clients or customers to patron the business. This is especially concerning for those in Texas and other southern states that are ill-equipped to de-ice major roadways, let alone travel on them.

Commercial Property Coverage Attorneys

When a natural disaster strikes, commercial property owners can face many difficulties when it comes to recovery. While having a property insurance policy in place can offer some protection, insurance providers can also utilize tactics that undermine the claims process to maintain a profit for themselves. Instead of valid claims being paid out on time, insurers can attempt to delay, underpay, and deny them. At Raizner Law, our team is familiar with the tactics and methods insurers use to avoid their duties to policyholders. Contact our office today to see how we can help you.

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