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Using Twitter to spot natural disasters


According to the USGS, Twitter was able to detect last week's quake in the Philippines ahead of sophisticated seismometers
According to the USGS, Twitter was able to detect last week's quake in the Philippines ahead of sophisticated seismometers

Cheryl Santa Maria, staff writer

September 3, 2012 — Twitter is quickly becoming a go-to resource for natural disaster reporting.

Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook (pictured above) can provide instant reports from the ground level
Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook (pictured above) can provide instant reports from the ground level

According to the USGS, Twitter was able to detect last week's magnitude-7.6 quake in the Philippines ahead of the organization's advanced seismometers.

The early discovery was made possible by a USGS Twitter bot called The Earthquake Dispatch service -- TED for short.

On August 31, TED detected 352 tweets per minute using the hashtag "#quake" coming from the Philippines.

It tweeted that information, along with a hyperlink to the USGS website containing further information.

"Within an hour of the tsunami warning being issued, the quake had an official hashtag that people inside and outside the country were using to share evacuation alerts, wave data and first-hand accounts of the situation along the coast," says Alexandra Pope, Social Media Coordinator for The Weather Network.

An increasing number of scientists are using Twitter to gain a better understanding of the world -- one of them being Gina Ressler, a meteorologist at The Weather Network.

She says the site is a "huge help", because it provides reports at the ground level, sometimes from remote areas.

"Twitter allows us to connect with the public instantly," she says. "We can respond to questions from our viewers quickly, while getting watches and warnings out there."

Here in Canada, several provinces have Twitter feeds that issue warnings and public alerts, and Alexandra says the site is helping shape the way weather events are reported.

"Twitter is an invaluable source of information," she says.

"It helps gauge how many people experienced an event and how they may have been affected, and it does that before any other information becomes available."

Join the conversation! Follow The Weather Network on Twitter and Facebook.

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