The Federal Emergency Management Agency does record forwarding addresses for natural disaster victims who receive aid. But those records omit the homeless, undocumented immigrants, and many people who are well insured. It also omits some in unstable living situations, such as Breland, who said he could not provide FEMA with proof of residence in an apartment he used to rent.
In the Zip codes affected by the Camp Fire, the U.S. Postal Service lists more than 13,000 households as “moved, left no address.” Confirming the whereabouts of former occupants of burned buildings has been an ongoing challenge for Butte County officials, where the assessor’s office has been processing about 100 address changes each day, said county Chief Administrative Officer Shari McCracken.
Phone and tech companies, such as data analytics group Thasos, have become a rich source of post-disaster data, able to track in real time the evacuation of different socio-economic groups with cellphone location data, for example. Facebook uses its app location data to create immediate disaster maps identifying where survivors flee but does not provide long-term analyses because of concerns including accuracy and privacy.