Cross-comparative analysis of evacuation behavior after earthquakes using mobile phone data

Takahiro Yabe, Yoshihide Sekimoto, Kota Tsubouchi, Satoshi Ikemoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the importance of predicting evacuation mobility dynamics after large scale disasters for effective first response and disaster relief, our general understanding of evacuation behavior remains limited because of the lack of empirical evidence on the evacuation movement of individuals across multiple disaster instances. Here we investigate the GPS trajectories of a total of more than 1 million anonymized mobile phone users whose positions were tracked for a period of 2 months before and after four of the major earthquakes that occurred in Japan. Through a cross comparative analysis between the four disaster instances, we find that in contrast to the assumed complexity of evacuation decision making mechanisms in crisis situations, an individual’s evacuation probability is strongly dependent on the seismic intensity that they experience. In fact, we show that the evacuation probabilities in all earthquakes collapse into a similar pattern, with a critical threshold at around seismic intensity 5.5. This indicates that despite the diversity in the earthquakes profiles and urban characteristics, evacuation behavior is similarly dependent on seismic intensity. Moreover, we found that probability density functions of the distances that individuals evacuate are not dependent on seismic intensities that individuals experience. These insights from empirical analysis on evacuation from multiple earthquake instances using large scale mobility data contributes to a deeper understanding of how people react to earthquakes, and can potentially assist decision makers to simulate and predict the number of evacuees in urban areas with little computational time and cost. This can be achieved by utilizing only the information on population density distribution and seismic intensity distribution, which can be observed instantaneously after the shock.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0211375
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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