Case study: Responding to natural disasters

How AI technology helps track citizens’ needs and improve cities’ disaster relief.

The number of natural disasters experienced worldwide keeps rising each year, according to The Economist. We’ve improved our emergency response: far less people die from natural disasters than in the past. But it’s not enough. Natural disasters still turn lives upside down, leaving citizens without food, transport, and access to healthcare and education.


Developing disaster resilience is key – and the UN claim that city leaders must lead the effort. They say: “Local governments are the closest level to the citizens and to their communities. They play the first role in responding to crises and emergencies.” 


When natural disasters hit, leaders must make difficult decisions and set important priorities – usually based on limited information.


AI Analytics Platforms like Citibeats can give city leaders the right information to take quick, effective action, based on what their citizens really need.


In July 2017, we teamed up with NTT Data to analyze citizens’ social media responses to natural disasters across three regions in northern Japan: Akita, Aomori and Iwate. Our machine-learning algorithms tracked the online conversation and pulled the most relevant data, to show which issues were of most concern.

Different priorities

Natural disasters triggered different problems in each region. In Akita, food and mobility were the main worries, while in Aomori and Iwate access to healthcare was the primary concern.

This difference reinforced the importance of hearing citizens in each different location and tailoring a city-specific response.

Evolving concerns

In the weeks following a disaster, the city’s needs evolve and change. Citibeats artificial intelligence monitors the changing conversation, as new services are disrupted, and some concerns are resolved.

In Akita, for example, initial heavy rains were followed by a 4.6 magnitude earthquake two days later. During the heavy rains, mobility was the single biggest concern, as well as the food and water supply. As the situation progressed, citizens also began to express concerns about damage to their houses and farmlands, and to speak out about their government’s response.

Immediate insights

These types of insights allow city leaders, insurance providers and aid organizations to provide more effective disaster relief. This goes beyond the immediate aftermath of the event: Citibeats can also identify new civic concerns that develop afterwards, as the city rebuilds itself, and some initial issues are resolved. This data helps us to respond better – and prepare better for future events.

Download the full case study for all the details.