Social networks such as Twitter may be used for monitoring, assessing and even predicting damage caused by natural disasters in just a few hours, a new study has found.
“Twitter, the social network which we have analysed, is useful for the management, real-time monitoring and even prediction of the economic impact that disasters like Hurricane Sandy can have,” said Esteban Moro Egido, from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) in Spain.
The researchers, including those from from National Information Communications Technology Australia and the University of California in San Diego, analysed Twitter activity before, during and after Hurricane Sandy which, in 2012, caused more damage than any other storm in US history, with an economic impact in the region of USD 50,000 million.
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Hundreds of millions of geo-located tweets making reference to this topic were collected from fifty metropolitan areas in the USA.
“Given that citizens were turning to these platforms for communication and information related to the disaster, we established a strong correlation between the route of the hurricane and activity on social networks,” said Esteban Moro.
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The data relating to social network activity was examined alongside data relating to both the levels of aid granted by the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and insurance claims.
Researchers found a correlation between the mean per capita of social network activity and economic damage per capita caused by these disasters in the areas where such activity occurs.
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In other words, both real and perceived threats, along with the economic effects of physical disasters, are directly observable through the strength and composition of the flow of messages from Twitter.
Researchers verified the results obtained from Hurricane Sandy and have been able to demonstrate that the same dynamic also occurs in the case of floods, storms and tornadoes; for example, whenever there is sufficient activity on social media to extract such data.
In this way, communication on Twitter allows the economic impact of a natural disaster in the affected areas to be monitored in real time, making it possible to provide information in addition to that currently used to assess damage resulting from these disasters.
Moreover, the distribution space of the event-related messages can also help the authorities in the monitoring and evaluation of emergencies, in order to improve responses to natural disasters.
The study was published in the journal Science Advances