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Understanding Changes in Consumer Behavior During a Natural Disaster: Hurricane Ida

January 10, 2022
by
Ilan Rich

Natural disasters impact everything from the environment to how people go about their daily lives. No matter how much a community prepares for an incoming storm or event, the effects can drastically alter behavior as individuals prioritize their health and safety over their usual routines. 

Two of the most common ways disaster impact can be observed is through consumer mobility and spending. When there is warning of an upcoming event, community members often visit stores where they can buy household staples such as bread, milk, water, and paper goods. Once the storm has begun, however, people tend to remain sheltered, no longer moving about the community or spending money. The impact of a disaster can be assessed through this initial spike in mobility and spending, through the drop off during the storm, and until foot traffic and transaction counts begin to recover.

It’s critical to measure natural disaster impact across both space and time to understand how long a community takes to recover, as well as which areas were most affected. Using SafeGraph’s geospatial data, we conducted an analysis of consumer mobility and spending during and after Hurricane Ida in August of 2021. 

Want to see the analysis for yourself? Check out our Google Colab notebook >

Analyzing Changes in Community Movement and Spending Over Time

Using the Neighborhood Patterns dataset, which measures mobility between Census Block Groups (CBGs), we estimate that mobility in New Orleans declined by ~66%  relative to the baseline of normal activity. When looking at the mobility between CBGs during the weeks following the storm, it appears mobility took 2-3 weeks to recover to levels observed prior to the hurricane. This analysis uses the stops_by_day column, summing up all stops by devices in SafeGraph’s panel for CBGs in New Orleans.

Foot traffic in New Orleans declined by 66% due to Hurricane Ida

Looking at the Spend dataset for the same time period and geography, we estimate that spending behavior declined by ~80%  relative to the baseline, and similarly took 2-3 weeks to recover to previous levels. This analysis uses the spend_by_day column, summing up all spend tied to individual businesses in New Orleans.

Spending at New Orleans POIs declined 80% due to Hurricane Ida

Analyzing Changes in Community Movement and Spending Over Space

To see the geographic trends in mobility impacted by Hurricane Ida, we mapped CBGs in New Orleans by change in population movement. Darker colors indicate larger drops in foot traffic.


Coastal areas near New Orleans saw mobility decline the most

As would be expected with a hurricane, New Orleans’ coastal areas saw the greatest decline in mobility between CBGs during and after Hurricane Ida. When looking at all of Louisiana, southeastern coastal CBGs saw the biggest change in consumer mobility.

Louisiana’s southeastern coastal CBGs saw the largest declines in mobility

Like mobility, spending also declined during and after Hurricane Ida. SafeGraph Spend allows us to see how consumer spending changed at individual businesses. Looking at August 2021, many stores in New Orleans show close to a 100% drop in transactions relative to the week prior to the storm.

The CVS located in the French Quarter shows a 98% drop in spend relative to the week before Hurricane Ida

Measuring the impact natural disasters have on human behavior is critical for recovery and response planning, as well as resilience-building for future events. Explore SafeGraph’s geospatial datasets to understand where places are located, and how people interact with them. Use our disaster analysis notebook to help get you started.


Join us for the exclusive first look at SafeGraph Spend during our upcoming webinar on January 26th, 2022 at 1pm ET. Register now to learn more on how this places-based transaction dataset enables you to uncover insights on spending changes over time at specific POIs, while comparing spending trends between locations and across regions.

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