Feeding the Hungry After a Flood


In the aftermath of a natural disaster, most people want to help by donating supplies, money, etc. And then it becomes a matter of logistics -- getting all those donations to the people who need them. We recently had several days of rain and flooding in North Carolina, and I was wondering if I could apply my visualization and mapping skills to possibly help out. Tag along as I show you the map I came up with.

But before we get to the visualization stuff, here are a few pictures to get you thinking about the floods. In North Carolina, we have mountains, piedmont, and coastal plains. And whenever we have hurricanes or heavy rain for several days, many areas in the coastal plains experience flooding. In the early 1980s we opened Jordan Lake which is used to help control some of the flooding. While I'm writing this blog post, the level is up 10ft above normal -- it's buffering a lot of water, but there was still a lot of flooding.

Yesterday, I went and emptied the water out of our team's dragon boat. The boat is about 43ft long, 4ft wide, and had about 1ft of water in it. That's about 172 cubic ft of water. There's about 7.5 gallons in a cubic foot, to that's about 1,290 gallons of water ... and at 8 pounds per gallon, that's over 10,000 pounds of water. In short, this just goes to show we got a lot of rain in the past few days!

During a flood, many people are displaced from their houses, and lose all their possessions ... such as food. I knew we had some local food banks across our state, but I wasn't sure exactly where they were, and what areas they serviced. A Google search quickly turned up the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina website. It had a logo showing a map of NC, with the area they service shaded in green (which I've circled in red, in the screen capture below):

They also had a pull-down menu with links for each branch. The branch pages listed all the counties they served, and provided the street address of their distribution center. Here's the info for the Raleigh branch, for example. Can you quickly pinpoint in your "mental map" exactly where the distribution center is located and the locations of the 13 counties it serves?

If you have as difficult a time as I do keeping track of the 100 counties in North Carolina, then you're probably thinking the same thing I'm thinking -- it sure would be nice to have a detailed map! So I built a dataset containing a list of all the counties they serve, and which distribution center serves which counties, and plotted that info on a SAS map. One slight 'oddity' -- some of the counties are served by both the Greenville and New Bern, therefore I used the same color for counties served by either of those branches.

Next, I geocoded the addresses of the distribution centers and plotted those as bright yellow markers on the map:

And for a final touch, I decided to try and show the reach of each distribution center, by drawing a line from the middle of each county to the distribution center(s) that provides for it.

I think it's a pretty nice map, and conveys a lot of useful information! Perhaps people can use it to see which branch to donate to, to help certain counties. Perhaps we can identify counties that are a long distance from a distribution center, and recommend where to open additional centers.

This blog was reposted from the SAS Learning Post. Go there to view the original.

Robert Allison, The Graph Guy!, SAS

Robert Allison has worked at SAS for more than 20 years and is perhaps the foremost expert in creating custom graphs using SAS/GRAPH. His educational background is in computer science, and he holds a BS, MS, and PhD from North Carolina State University. He is the author of several conference papers, has won a few graphic competitions, and has written a book calledSAS/GRAPH: Beyond the Basics.

What Cities are in Hurricane Irma's Path?

Here's an example of using data and visualization to look at weather -- specifically, the possible path of Hurricane Irma. Does your city need to get ready?

Mapping Out the Next Robot Invasion

Where are all the robots today? Here's a look at a better data visualization to represent where in the US all the robots are.


Re: Good Map
  • 5/29/2017 5:24:19 PM
NO RATINGS

I'm sure there must be.  When anyone applies for a mortgage they must also check to see if the property is in a flood zone, so I assume there is a data somewhere with all this information.

Re: Good Map
  • 5/13/2017 12:14:42 PM
NO RATINGS

I've noticed how difficult it usually is to find useful graphics of emergency situations, even simple maps of just where the flooding is, hurricane affected neighborhoods, etc. etc. It seems that although government agencies are most likely generating lots of maps, graphics and data, the agencies are working often at divergent goals and either don't share in timely fashion, or publish the data in obscure online places. I wonder if there should be a "central" agency to pull together data dna publish to the public in one central location?

Re: Good Map
  • 5/9/2017 10:35:17 PM
NO RATINGS

..

Useful map, which I think could be improved with a feature that would display the address of each distribution center (and maybe a map with directions) when you hovered over it (Robert has probably thought of this).

Would be useful to access this on a mobile device like a smartphone. But I wonder how people access the Internet if they're flood refugees and don't have access to a WiFi hotspot ...

Emergency shelters would probably be particularly dependent on the food centers, so this handy map app would be especially useful to their personnel.

..

Re: Good Map
  • 5/8/2017 5:02:00 PM
NO RATINGS

Unfortunatley you are right- that is if they even care about the blogs enough to have someone read them.

Re: Hunger/Food supplies
  • 5/6/2017 10:35:18 PM
NO RATINGS

@Joe I'm not sure it really is the supply itself so much as how well it is managed. I once interviewedDennis Easter, information system director at Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. He explained that many perishable items that come in are already near the end of their shelf life. So the trick is to get that food out ahead of the food that will remain usable longer. Software helped with tracking for more efficient use.

Re: Good Map
  • 5/6/2017 10:28:18 PM
NO RATINGS

@Terry that sounds like a very accurate assessment of the people in charge at most organizations, unfortunately. 

Re: Good Map
  • 5/6/2017 3:48:45 PM
NO RATINGS

in re "I doubt many of the state officials would read a blog like this..."

They'd leave it to mid-level staffers to read, or if they got to it themselves, would then need someone to explain it to them. And I'm pretty sure this dynamic isn't limited to technology topics.

Those blank counties
  • 5/6/2017 3:45:51 PM
NO RATINGS

Another interesting slice-n-dice of data and its graphical representation, Robert.

Of course I have to ask what the story is with the four counties in southern NC that have opted out of the foodbank distribution system. Maybe they have their own warehouses, or those are disaster-free jurisdictions?

Re: Good Map
  • 5/5/2017 5:15:50 PM
NO RATINGS

You really are an optimist. I doubt many of the state officials would read a blog like this.

Re: Hunger/Food supplies
  • 5/5/2017 9:31:10 AM
NO RATINGS

@Joe Stanganelli, that's an interesting statement and some numbers to back that up would be helpful.  From what I've seen locally supply is good even before disasters strike. I know of 2 different organizations that send enough food home with school aged kids who are technically homeless every Friday to last them through the weekend.   The last time I went to pack up bags they were sending food home with over 1000 students in the county.  When disasters hit supply tends to increase especially from out of state as we've seen with several recent events so it would be interesting to see where the gap in supply is.

Page 1 / 2   >   >>
INFORMATION RESOURCES
ANALYTICS IN ACTION
CARTERTOONS
VIEW ALL +
QUICK POLL
VIEW ALL +