In late October 2012, much of the East coast felt the power of Hurricane Sandy. Approximately 150 deaths were attributed to the storm, and damage estimates of $50 billion made Sandy one of the costliest disasters in US history. Millions of people were affected, and as is standard for the world we live in today, took to social media to talk about it.

That in itself isn’t so surprising, and neither is the fact that researchers are studying social media messaging during disasters. However, a recent study published in Science Advances offers a compelling argument that social media messaging could be used to rapidly and accurately assess damage from a large-scale event. What this means is that during and immediately following a disaster, decision makers can use social media to identify areas most in need of assistance.

Researchers looked at whether there was a relationship between hurricane-related Twitter activity during Hurricane Sandy, and the hurricane’s path. They analyzed over 9 million tweets from over 2 million different users related to Hurricane Sandy. They focused only on tweets with geo-coded locations, since the study aimed to show a relationship between proximity to the event (in this case, Hurricane Sandy) and increased social media activity.truck

What the researchers found was that, indeed, the number of Hurricane Sandy-related tweets increased the closer to Hurricane Sandy’s path. Users farther away from the storm tweeted less than those directly affected. They were also able to conclude that the more tweets per area, the higher the amount of monetary damage sustained from the storm. It seems, then, that social media – or at the very least, Twitter – can be used to rapidly and accurately assess disaster-related damage.

So what does this mean for ODF? It means we’re on the right track, and that the importance of social media during a disaster can’t be forgotten. As we move forward in the design phase, the team will look at studies such as this one to gain a better understanding of the analysis tools first responders and decision makers need…and work to incorporate those into the final product.

Do you have any experiences with using or monitoring social media during a large-scale event or disaster? Share your story in the comments below!pole

Read the full study here: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/3/e1500779.full

Images courtesy of CNN