Lessons from Harvey

Improving Traditional Damage Estimates with Social Media Sourced Damage Estimates

Published in: Cities (2021). doi: 10.1016/j.cities.2021.103500

Posted on RAND.org on November 16, 2021

by Carlos Villegas, Matthew J. Martinez

Read More

Access further information on this document at Science Direct

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

Social media systems and crowdsourced data sites were incredibly active during disasters. Residents, first responders, and officials all turn to these systems to impart information and make calls for assistance. These systems will likely continue to hold a central informational and communication role in future disasters. Analyzing the trends and information that come from these sources in real-time aids the recovery process and help public agencies, first responders and researchers more quickly assess damages during and immediately after a disaster. Traditional sources, such as the initial FEMA damage estimates can miss areas of heavy impact and are often time delayed by several weeks. Using Harris County, Texas in the Houston region and the 2017 Hurricane Harvey flooding, the study provides a novel use-case in crisis informatics. The study leverages calls for help during the flooding event to mine address-level information to proxy damage estimates at the parcel-level. The study finds 36- to 53% of Twitter-sourced damage estimates are not captured in the FEMA estimates, significantly augmenting initial estimates with new data—feasibly within hours after the information is first tweeted. Empirically, the study evaluates how parcel-level FEMA damage estimates and Twitter-sourced damage estimates complement each other to proxy damaged structures.

Research conducted by

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit www.rand.org/about/principles.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.