Twitter To The Rescue

We you think of Twitter, most of us think about the social networking tool used by millions. Twitter however can be a great help in disaster operations. This was recently demonstrated by researchers who created real-time flood maps using data from real tweets during the February Indonesian floods.

Researchers from the Netherlands-based Deltares research institute said that around 900 flood-related tweets per minute were sent in the Indonesian capital Jakarta during floods in February. The tweets tend had very detailed information including pictures and information on the precise location, sometimes even water depth. It is often difficult to gather data fast about the extent of floods in disaster-prone areas. Existing data sources include satellite and aerial images and ground observations, all of which take time to assemble.

Two Dutch organizations have now come up with a method to use Twitter data to create maps of areas to be targeted for post-disaster assistance. Flood-related tweets are filtered to remove spam and retweets, and then mined for data on water depths and location. The information is compared to digital maps of low-lying and flood-prone areas, as well as district-specific data on the number of tweets and water depth per tweet.

This was validated during the Jakarta February floods, and the researchers compared their findings with photographic evidence of the extent. They found that in 76% of districts they were modeled correctly. There were around 13.6 million Indonesian users in 2014, according to online ad researcher eMarketer.