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Houston Health Providers To Use Social Media Location Data In Disaster Response

Facebook will provide anonymized data to Houston health organizations

Davis Land
Community healthcare providers gather in Houston to share what they learned from Harvey on Thursday, May 10, 2018.

Community health organizations from the Gulf Coast met in Houston on Thursday to share plans and lessons learned from Harvey, looking towards the 2018 hurricane season.

Medicine being left at home during evacuations became a common issue heard by healthcare providers during Hurricane Harvey, echoing past flooding disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Rita. With new methods, providers are hoping to better meet the most common needs of those fleeing a disaster. Providers at the workshop said understanding where people ended up after evacuating is something they hoped to improve for the future.

One part of planning for 2018 was Facebook, which through its Disaster Maps program provides aid organizations aggregate and “de-identified” data on how people are moving around an area during disasters.

"We need to be able to have effective plans in place beforehand,” said Andrew Schroeder of aid organization Direct Relief — one of the groups training Texas clinics. “During hurricane Harvey some of these tools were available in the sense that the data exists but [knowing] the way to use them didn't exist," he said

Facebook also has a tool called Community Help, which initially matched people in need with others providing donations. In February this year Facebook announced Community Help would open to businesses, which clinics in Texas are now learning to use. In addition to someone who needs a place to stay finding someone else with an open bed room, for example, the platform hopes to connect patients who need certain medications during disaster with a clinic that can provide them.

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