Mobile Service Disruption from Great Japan Earthquake Visualized


Mobile usage in Tokyo, visualized before and after the 3/11 earthquake

When the tragic earthquake hit Japan back in March of 2011, mobile communications were severely disrupted in the affected regions, even in metropolitan Tokyo. The University of Tokyo’s Center for Spatial Information Science has put together an incredible visualization which dramatically illustrates how mobile activity almost completely stops in the minutes after the earthquake hit at 14:46PM on that afternoon.

In the video below, anonymized geo-speatial data from Zenrin DataCom shows the movement of people in the city throughout the day 1. Time is shown progressing in the bottom right corner. As you can see, mobile movement is most intense during the morning rush hour between 8AM and 9AM, with the majority of movement concentrated on major train lines.

But just after the earthquake hits in the afternoon, mobile activity ‘goes dark’ so to speak. Train service was also interrupted, and you can see that people don’t really resume movement until late in the evening, and even then it was at just a fraction of its usual pace. You can check out the video for yourself below to see how the day progresses in its entirety, and how mobile activity recovers in later that night and the next morning.

As we pointed out last year, even after Japanese mobile carriers pledged to improve network infrastructure, they still experienced some problems in 2012, most notably Docomo, who attributed some problems to increased VoIP activity.

  1. As I understand it, Zenrin’s geo-spatial data is primary from NTT Docomo. We previously wrote about Docomo’s efforts to use this geo-spatial data in city planning.

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