By looking at Twitter data, it is possible to determine the damage caused by a natural disaster in just a few hours, say researchers who analysed Twitter activity before, during and after Hurricane Sandy which caused severe damage in the US four years back.
Hurricane Sandy caused more damage than any other storm in US history, with an economic impact in the region of $50,000 million.
Hundreds of millions of geo-located tweets making reference to this topic were collected from 50 metropolitan areas in the US.
“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 Egido from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.
The study, published in the journal Science Advances, found that Twitter is useful for the management, real-time monitoring and even prediction of the economic impact that disasters like Hurricane Sandy can have.
The team also had scientists from the National Information Communications Technology Australia (NICTA) and the University of California in San Diego.
The main findings were obtained when the data relating to Twitter activity was examined alongside data relating to both the levels of aid granted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and insurance claims.
The team found that there is 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.
Furthermore, researchers verified the results obtained from Hurricane Sandy and were able to demonstrate that the same dynamic also occurs in the case of floods, storms and tornadoes.
“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,” the authors pointed out.
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 authors suggest that we are facing an increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters as a consequence of climate change.
“We believe that this is going to cause even more natural disasters and, therefore, the use of social networks will allow us to obtain useful supplementary information," professor Esteban Moro pointed out.
“We are trying to see if there is a relationship between activity on social networks and climate change which will affect us in the future,” he added.