Columbia University Medical Center

Cell Phones Aid Disaster Response

Cell phones are useful in tracking population movements during disasters, according to researchers at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden, and Columbia University’s School of Nursing and Mailman School of Public Health. In any large-scale disaster, knowledge of population movements is critical to effective relief assistance. The researchers, including Columbia’s Richard Garfield, RN, MPH, DrPH, Henrik H. Bendixen Professor of Clinical International Nursing, collaborated with Digicel, the largest cell phone company in Haiti. Tracking the location of 1.9 million SIMs (subscriber identity modules) in Haiti before and after the January 2010 earthquake, they found the SIMS cards to be more accurate than ad hoc estimates by officials. Monitoring population movements during the first few days after the cholera outbreak that followed the earthquake, they were able to generate estimates within 12 hours of receiving the SIM data?suggesting that the technique could be particularly useful for monitoring population movements during infectious disease outbreaks. The study was published online in PLoS Medicine on August 8, 2011.

Coutesy PLoS Medicine

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