Natural disasters have a profound impact on human society. They caused 1.2 million deaths, influenced 2.9 billion people, and resulted in a total $1.7 trillion dollars in economic loss from 2000 to 2012. Understanding and predicting human mobility patterns plays a critical role in reducing the loss of life, injuries, and economic loss during such extreme events. This initiative examines the coupled system of human mobility and natural disasters, develops comprehensive data-collecting systems of human movements, and analyzes and predicts human mobility perturbation under the influences of various types of extreme events.

PROJECT #1 – National Science Foundation #1142379

Existing human mobility data suffer several problems including lack of open access, low resolution, inadequate data samples, and questionable representativeness. This project—which extends from a study of network dynamics between occupants and buildings—designs a novel computational system to collect human communication and mobility data using Twitter, a large-scale social networking platform. This system is able to collect about 10 million geo-tagged tweets each day from the largest open access geo-social networking platforms. The system has been used to collect data since 2012. Initial analyses confirm it is a viable resource for studying perturbed human mobility. This project then examines collected high resolution “big data” from a large and representative population to study human mobility in extreme events.

Acknowledgment and Disclaimer: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1142379. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

PROJECT #2 – BioBuild, IGEP Virginia Tech

The BioBuild program is a new Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program (IGEP) funded by the Graduate School at Virginia Tech. It was created to address pressing societal needs with interdisciplinary expertise informed by natural systems. The pedagogical objective of the BioBuild IGEP is to create and sustain a doctoral program at the confluence of the built environment and biology and foster competitive graduates with abilities to view grand challenges in the built and natural environments through an interdisciplinary lens.   The objective of this BioBuild sub-project is to utilize bio-inspired mobility pattern understandings from animal populations to understand and predict human mobility under the influence of extreme events for: (1) perturbation – the changes of travel frequencies, locations, and trajectories in human movements, (2) resilience – correlations between human mobility during perturbation states and steady states, and (3) adaptability – the changes and recovery of travel patterns under the influence of tropical cyclones. This project aims to discover and simulation fundamental patterns of human mobility perturbation and develop predictive models to locate individuals missing in extreme events.





National Science Foundation #1142379
Amount: $400,000   
: 2011 – 2016
Title: Building Occupant Network Dynamics

Virginia Tech
Amount: $450,000
Duration: 2013 – 2017
Title: BioBuild – New PhD Program in Bio-inspired Building



Ryan Wang
Post-doctoral Researcher, Harvard University


Yan Wang
PhD Student, Virginia Tech