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Could Twitter be a lifesaver?


Social media creates a lot of noise and researchers are examining ways it can be harnessed to provide key information during emergency situations.

Work carried out at Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) indicates that twitter, with its 500 million daily tweets, can provide vital data for first responders and others, which could help them better manage their resources.

The IST case study ’embracing human noise as a resilience indicator’ points to the way tweets could be interpreted to accelerate understanding of rapidly changing circumstances.

Looking at tweets sent out during Hurricane Sandy, the team was able to construct a system built on key terms used, such as ‘utility’ and ‘outage’. And it found critical details could be processed faster.

“We can count how many beds are in a hospital, or how many people can be injured. But we know people are producing all of this noise and we know it can be useful. But we’ve never been able to correlate or demonstrate it in real-time,” explained Nick Lalone, doctoral student and the principal investigator of the study.

He added: “The future is that we hope someone with ties to Homeland Security or the Red Cross will be able to put together this data when something happens and incorporate it into their official response.”


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