Data-mining and social media

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

There is a lot of hype with social media and emergency management/disaster response.  Buzzwords mostly.  What I have found in my years of EM/response work is that when you get a trend such as social media, you have this mis-use of under utilization of new technologies.  There is a legitimate belief that new technologies are likely hype an will be replaced with newer technologies.

GIS is a prime example.  Huge potential and while I worked in GIS/remote sensing for 3 years while going to school, it seemed that emergency management never saw it as more than a cool new technology.  GIS has been around for years but couldn’t really get out of the gate with EM work.  Social media seems to be stuck in the same posititon.  The reason is that EM’s don’t really know how to use it.  They create facebook and twitter accounts and that is where it ends.  It’s the same with GIS.  EM’s use GIS to create maps.  GIS makes great maps but it’s a data management and analysis tool and EM’s are just realizing this.  Social media is a information portal.  Sure you can tweet about being safe while trick or treating on halloween, and that is a useful feature of social media, but the strength is actually in the analysis of social media traffic during a disaster.  You can gather a unbelievable amount of tactical intelligence by simply looking to see what people are talking about during the course of a disaster/emergency.

Think about what it would be like to have thousands of extra eyes working for you during an emergency.  Rather than wasting valuable resources trying to figure out what’s going on, you can data-mine social media to begin sizing up an emergency.  Now of course you can’t rely on any social media source as your sole source of information but it’s a tool for the tool box.  It’s incredible that we have the opportunity to have a system where you get two way communication during an emergency.  No longer do you have warn civilians and wonder if they get it.  They have a way to immediately interact with you.  That is if you create the opportunity.  Another problem with the use of social media is the fact that you need to believe in it.  If your going to set up all these accounts than you better be invested in it.  If you don’t tweet or post frequently than people are going to stop paying attention.  Finally, you need to take a shot gun approach to getting info out and ingesting info.  If your going to send information out to the public, send it over as many venues as you can.  Twitter, Facebook, your blog, your website, etc….and you need to search all of these sources when collecting data.

Social media has changed the way people interact and how emergency managers can interact with the public but if you don’t buy into it fully than you will never see it’s strengths.


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