Mobile phone data reveals the importance of pre-disaster inter-city social ties for recovery after Hurricane Maria

Takahiro Yabe, Satish V. Ukkusuri, P. Suresh C. Rao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent disasters have shown the existence of large variance in recovery trajectories across cities that have experienced similar damage levels. Case studies of such events reveal the high complexity of the recovery process of cities, where inter-city dependencies and intra-city coupling of social and physical systems may affect the outcomes in unforeseen ways. Despite the large implications of understanding the recovery processes of cities after disasters for many domains including critical services, disaster management, and public health, little work have been performed to unravel this complexity. Rather, works are limited to analyzing and modeling cities as independent entities, and have largely neglected the effect that inter-city connectivity may have on the recovery of each city. Large scale mobility data (e.g. mobile phone data, social media data) have enabled us to observe human mobility patterns within and across cities with high spatial and temporal granularity. In this paper, we investigate how inter-city dependencies in both physical as well as social forms contribute to the recovery performances of cities after disasters, through a case study of the population recovery patterns of 78 Puerto Rican counties after Hurricane Maria using mobile phone location data. Various network metrics are used to quantify the types of inter-city dependencies that play an important role for effective post-disaster recovery. We find that inter-city social connectivity, which is measured by pre-disaster mobility patterns, is crucial for quicker recovery after Hurricane Maria. More specifically, counties that had more influx and outflux of people prior to the hurricane, were able to recover faster. Our findings highlight the importance of fostering the social connectivity between cities to prepare effectively for future disasters. This paper introduces a new perspective in the community resilience literature, where we take into account the inter-city dependencies in the recovery process rather than analyzing each community as independent entities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number98
JournalApplied Network Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • Disaster recovery
  • Human mobility
  • Inter-city networks
  • Mobile phone data
  • Social networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Computational Mathematics


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