Rapid disaster logistics

Responding to the central US tornadoes

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Dec 21, 2021

Rapid disaster logistics

Responding to the central US tornadoes


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Dec 21, 2021

Clear maps and detailed data play a major role in making any logistics operation efficient and effective. Mapbox Logistics tools play a major role in disaster response, like the one we saw after an unprecedented late-season tornado outbreak struck communities in the southern and central United States on the evening of December 10th. From Arkansas to Kentucky, the tornadoes traveled paths of around 260 miles combined with a maximum width of just over 1 mile — a scale of damage that is hard to comprehend. When disasters happen this fast, rapid data can make all the difference for response.

First-on-the-ground disaster logistics

The disaster logistics experts at World Central Kitchen (WCK) know how to respond quickly and effectively. Within hours of the tornadoes, their relief team was evaluating the situation, mustering resources, and coordinating how to get meals to those affected and the first responders in need of support.

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(Photo credits World Central Kitchen)

As WCK established meal distribution locations with local chefs, food trucks, and neighbors wanting to help, we helped by mapping the locations with Mapbox GL JS. We contextualized the distribution locations using post-disaster imagery provided by Maxar’s open data program and processed with our tiling infrastructure.

Before and after imagery in Mayfield, with WCK's meal distribution locations plotted as green circles, sized by the number of meals distributed.

Explore WCK’s response locations and the tornado touchdown locations in this interactive map built by Mapbox volunteers Cameron Kruse and Jonni Walker using Mapbox Studio.

The tornado touchdown locations (blue) and WCK's meal distribution data (orange).

Real-time situation awareness

For responders needing a detailed picture of how people are moving before, during, and after a disaster event, Mapbox Movement Data provides an hourly picture of activity. We analyzed the Movement data for the areas impacted by the tornado cluster. The data shows more movement than usual as people began to move towards shelter within the areas under tornado alert.

Dark green tiles represent increased movement.

Similar to our analysis of pandemic lockdowns or ground-truthing of winter storm traffic behavior, the data in the central United States aligns closely with local conditions, giving Movement users a rapid picture of activity to inform critical logistics decisions and learn from what happened during an event.

Movement levels pre-event (left) and during the tornadoes (right). Darker green represents an increase in movement.

The Movement data shows a 25-40% increase in movement compared to normal levels in the multi-state area where the tornadoes were active the night of December 10th. The most intense movement correlated directly with the path the tornadoes took, but people across most of the midwest were seeking shelter during the tornado outbreak. These population movements are very different from the patterns resulting from shelter-in-place orders during the COVID pandemic, which saw dramatic reductions in movement activity.

Supporting logistics

Explore how to use Mapbox Movement data for mobility insights. For commercial logistics needs contact our sales team and for disaster response support contact community.

To assist directly with tornado recovery efforts, please support World Central Kitchen, CARE’s response fund for affected families, the Kentucky relief fund to help regional businesses recover, or donate blood.