Ok, this is cool. And also rather frightening, as I just caught Contagion on HBO the other night. Researchers at MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering took a good look at the first few days of a contagious disease outbreak and determined which U.S. airports would be the biggest influencers in its spread.
They looked at the top 40 largest airports in the country, and found that traffic isn’t necessarily the only indicator of how much an airport would be to blame.
Unlike existing models, the new MIT model incorporates variations in travel patterns among individuals, the geographic locations of airports, the disparity in interactions among airports, and waiting times at individual airports to create a tool that could be used to predict where and how fast a disease might spread.
“The results from our model are very different from those of a conventional model that relies on the random diffusion of travelers … [and] similar to the advective flow of fluids,” says researcher Christos Nicolaides. “The advective transport process relies on distinctive properties of the substance that’s moving, as opposed to diffusion, which assumes a random flow. If you include diffusion only in the model, the biggest airport hubs in terms of traffic would be the most influential spreaders of disease. But that’s not accurate.”
Here’s what they mean: Although Honolulu’ airport is only about 1/3 as large as New York’s Kennedy International (in terms of traffic), it’s positioning in the “air transportation network” and its connection to many distant well-connected hubs makes it almost as influential in the spread of our unknown contagion.
Here are the final rankings in terms of most influential in the spread of disease:
- Kennedy International (New York)
- Los Angeles
- San Francisco
- Chicago (O’Hare)
- Washington (Dulles)
- Hartsfield-Jackson International (Atlanta)
Hartsfield-Jackson ranked only 8th in terms of influence, although it serves the most flights out of any airport in consideration.[via The Verge]