A Columbia company that interprets cell phone data is tracking human movement and the spread of coronavirus.

Tectonix is getting information “to policy makers, state regulators and public health experts because when they can see trends at scale they can direct resources to areas where people tend to gather,” said Mike DiMarco, chief marketing officer for the company, “and to those who need it most, and to save lives.”

Tectonix has gained national attention during the outbreak of COVID-19.

“Massive quantities of data are used for high-speed mapping of data points acquired via cell phone to see how the public assembles in various geographic locations,” DiMarco said,

“We’re in a unique place to note trends for our partners because the movement of cell phone users indicates the potential impacts of people not social distancing as well as offer new insights that can be employed when making new policy regulations,” DiMarco said, such as when Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan ordered most businesses operators to shut down or when he directed all residents and retail workers to wear masks.

Seeing “footprints” on a map in real time enhances the ability to make decisions, he said, “as would examining a map from spring break in Miami, Mardi Gras in New Orleans or a rock concert. It provides a more impactful visual as to what movement patterns really look like and deciding what the next steps should be.”

DiMarco said Tectonix also recently “charted a one-week stretch of movement between New York City and other parts of the country. That made it easy to see how the virus spread from that area. At that time, we also saw more traffic [than expected traveling] from New York to most of Maryland.”

But what Tectonix does “isn’t really about tracking the virus but illustrating how connected people in our country are,” he said. “With the stakes so high, it’s important to understand how the virus can be spread from a few hundred people in just a few weeks to a few hundred thousand or more.”

He added that he’s observed that areas where officials took “early, decisive action are faring relatively well” in handling the outbreak. “That’s where we’re seeing decreased movement. It seems that those places are where people have been listening” to the recommendations of government and medical officials.

Most of the focus at Tectonix today concerns the spread of coronavirus but DiMarco sees matches in many other industries for the company’s services aside from the public health realm, “such as cybersecurity, advertising, financial technology, community planning and real estate development,” he said. “That’s because real-time location data, at scale, is a valuable part of any analysis.”

By Mark R. Smith | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly