A grass fire

A fire researcher observes a grass fire

Emergency Situation Awareness tool for social media

Social media channels provide a new, rich source of information from which disaster managers and emergency response agencies can obtain real-time awareness of developing situations.

  • 10 October 2012 | Updated 25 February 2013

Social networking has changed the way people broadcast and receive information. Every minute, vast amounts of information are communicated via Twitter. Our challenge is to make relevant information accessible to emergency services.

Without suitable tools this information can't be used, for example details about the 2009 Victorian bushfires was reported in real-time on social network sites but was not visible to state or federal disaster response agencies.

We've created Emergency Situation Awareness (ESA) software to detect unusual behaviour in the Twitter stream and alert users in the emergency services when a disaster event is being broadcast online. 

Social media analysis in action: responding to a grassfire

"We’re very happy with the performance of the ESA software. In this recent fire incident, ESA allowed us to get early warning from social media so we could respond faster and evacuate people safely"

Spokesperson, All hazards information management program

Recently, a hospital was threatened by a grass fire in Cloncurry in outback Queensland. Our ESA software gave the Queensland Department of Community Safety early warning of the incident.

ESA provided crisis coordinators early notification to prepare their response to the fire while waiting for confirmation from official channels. This meant the evacuation plan could be prepared, providing precious extra time to the emergency management workers on the ground.

It allowed efficient, safe and timely evacuation of hospital staff and patients before the fire got out of control and evacuation became difficult or impossible.

How social media can help disaster managers

The potential applications of social media information for disaster managers include providing:

  • evidence of pre-incident activity

  • near real-time notice of an incident occurring

  • first-hand reports of incident impacts

  • gauging community response to an emergency warning.

This information will contribute towards effective decisions for emergency responses.

Yet to do this, emergency services organisations need a reliable way to identify and analyse emerging topics that indicate a significant disaster, emergency event or unexpected incident is occurring within a given time frame and at a given location.

We are developing technologies to support automated social media analysis to collect, detect, assess, simplify and report situation information in near real-time from Twitter.

Emergency Situation Awareness software

Our Emergency Situation Awareness (ESA) software detects unusual behaviour in the Twitter stream and quickly alerts the user when a disaster event is being broadcast. ESA also stores complete Twitter stream information and allows post-event analyses.

Such useful and accessible information will provide timely situation awareness for disaster managers and emergency response agencies.

How does it work?

ESA exploits the statistical incidence of words used on Twitter to describe emergency events. It's trained using historical word occurrences on Twitter from past disaster events. This allows ESA to reveal emerging topics and flag them for investigation.

Searches repeated every minute look for words that are used more often than normal and these detected ‘word bursts’ are extracted, stored and are available for access by incident response agencies via the ESA web application.

ESA provides situation awareness by using data mining techniques including burst detection, text classification, online clustering and geo-tagging. These techniques are adapted and optimised for dealing with real-time high-volume text streams, which identify early indicators of unexpected events, explore the impact of identified incidents and monitor the evolution of events.

ESA can:

  • detect unexpected or unusual incidents, possibly ahead of other communications

  • condense and summarise messages about an incident maintaining awareness of aggregated content without having to read individual messages

  • classify and review high-value messages during an incident (e.g. messages describing infrastructure damage or cries for help); understand the impact of an incident on people and infrastructure

  • identify, track, and manage issues within an incident as they arise, develop, and conclude; pro-actively identify and manage issues that may last for hours, days or weeks

  • perform analysis of incidents by exploring social media content from before, during, and after an incident.

Find out how Vizie provides social media monitoring to identify customer needs.