Mapping Hurricane Irma’s Impact Using Real-Time Internet Activity

Monash Business School’s Simon Angus and Paul Raschky have previously harnessed the power of big data to monitor internet quality during the Turkish constitutional referendum and the presidential elections in Iran. Now they’ve used the same tools to map the impact of Hurricane Irma on the Caribbean and Florida.

As Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history, battered islands across the Caribbean and southern Florida this week, Dr Simon Angus, Associate Professor Paul Raschky and their University of Chicago colleague Dr Klaus Ackermann mapped hourly changes in the online / offline activity of 401,682 IP-addresses at over 4000 unique locations in the affected regions.

The results, presented in the animated maps on the right, demonstrate the hurricane’s impact on ICT infrastructure as it passed the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba, and made landfall in Florida. The red dots reveal locations where no internet activity was recorded, while at least some internet activity was recorded at places marked by the blue dots.

Significantly, these data have the potential to provide first responders with valuable information about the impact of natural disasters on communities as they unfold. For example, they could be used as an early input to assess the geographic extent of a hurricane, or its impact on communication technologies in affected regions.

They also demonstrate the powerful insights that can be yielded through analysing internet activity around the world; a prospect that is becoming increasingly apparent to Klaus, Simon and Paul. They recently developed the world’s richest data set on global internet activity, and have already applied their methodology to topics ranging from the nature of global sleep patterns to internet quality during the constitutional referendum in Turkey and the presidential elections in Iran.

Most notably of all, they believe this is just the beginning.

Real-time updated maps  from the IP scans tracking Hurricane Irma’s impact, including raw data available for download, can be found at the project’s home. For more on this research, which forms part of the Monash Business School seed-funding project ‘The IP-Observatory’, see www.one-trillion.org.