[Cross posted at the Money, Data, and Privacy blog]
Big data from social media is increasingly used in disaster management procedures. The speed at which big social data feeds travel across the networks has already been leveraged at the early warning stage by agencies such as the United States Geological Survey, which is currently developing a system to detect earthquakes by monitoring Twitter real-time information from local users. In Australia, the CSIRO is also testing emergency situation awareness (ESA) software to sense unusual events in the Twitter stream and alert users in the emergency services.
The potential of processing social media data in the phases of early warning and immediate response is huge. Big data can contribute to provide the big picture, while offering at the same time granular, real-time information at the local level. However, processing such an amount of information can largely exceed the capacities of most agencies and response organizations, especially in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. The Typhoon Haiyan that is currently hitting the Philippines is the most updated example of how relief organizations can leverage the resources of the crowds to scan social media, tag tweets and images, geolocate events, translate keywords for monitoring, etc. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has requested the activation of the Digital Humanitarian Network, which coordinates volunteer organizations around the world (SBTF, OpenStreetMap, GISCorps, Humanity Road, Info4Disasters, Translators without Borders, Statistics Without Borders, Disaster Tech Lab, etc.) to participate in the effort.
At this present moment digital volunteers from these organizations are working around the clock in a number of different tasks (see this post to learn who is doing what) and using new applications specifically developed for disaster response purposes. Two of these apps, the TweetClicker and the ImageClicker (recently developed by Patrick Meier’s team at the Social Innovation at the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute) allow any member of the crowd to tag tweets and images with just a click. While still in a testing phase, these technologies are opening up a new frontier in the use of big data for disaster response.