Population Health

October 17, 2019

Assessing community well-being post disaster via physical activity data

Image of national guard vehicle traversing a flooded streetNew research from an interdisciplinary team of University of Washington researchers funded by the Population Health Initiative found that biking and walking data may be useful to understand the impact of a disaster on a community and its recovery progress.

The research team used counts of the daily number of bicyclists and pedestrians on four commuter and recreation trails around Houston in two six-week spans, before and after Hurricane Harvey in 2017, to test how storm damage impacted levels of walking and biking.

While walking and biking dropped, as expected, immediately after Harvey, the trails showed similar or increased average usage in the six weeks after the hurricane compared to the six weeks before (excluding the two weeks post-landfall).

While this less-traditional assessment of disaster recovery suggests a rapid return to physical activity among Houston’s nearby residents, the researchers caution that the daily counts may reflect other impacts of the hurricane. While these variables make it difficult to definitively link trail usage to the well-being of individuals, they do present an opportunity to study the diverse and interacting impacts of disasters.

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