Twitter to Aid Earthquake Response

Mayon Volcano, once dubbed as world’s most perfect cone volcano is once again spewing ashes and is having minor eruptions recently. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has already declared alert level 3 over Albay province and has ordered the evacuation of residents in the nearby area.

Aside from the usual equipment Phivolcs has in determining and monitoring volcanic activities, social networking sites like Twitter can also be used.

The U.S. Geological Survey is using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support a student who’s investigating social Internet technologies as a way to quickly gather information about recent earthquakes.

In this exploratory effort, the USGS is developing a system that gathers real-time, earthquake-related messages from the social networking site Twitter and applies place, time, and key word filtering to gather geo-located accounts of shaking. This approach provides rapid first-impression narratives and, potentially, photos from people at the hazard’s location. The potential for earthquake detection in populated but sparsely seismicly-instrumented regions is also being investigated.

Social Internet technologies are providing the general public with anecdotal earthquake hazard information before scientific information has been published from authoritative sources. People local to an event are able to publish information via these technologies within seconds of their occurrence.

In contrast, depending on the location of the earthquake, scientific alerts can take between 2 to 20 minutes. By adopting and embracing these new technologies, the USGS potentially can augment its earthquake response products and the delivery of hazard information.

In another related development, an earthquake early warning system for California is feasible in coming years, according to research being presented Dec. 14-15 at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. The ongoing study demonstrates that an earthquake early warning system for California is possible and lays out how such a system could be built.

Earthquake early warning systems, already successfully deployed in Mexico, Japan and Taiwan, can detect an earthquake in progress and provide notice of seconds to tens of seconds prior to actual ground shaking. Building on developments in other countries with significant earthquake risk, scientists are exploring early warning in the United States.

After a three-year earthquake early warning study funded by the U.S. Geological Survey was completed in August 2009, a second USGS-funded project was launched to integrate the previously tested methods into a single prototype warning system.

When completed, this pilot system, called the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN) ShakeAlert System, will provide warning to a small group of test users, including emergency response groups, utilities, and transportation agencies. While in the testing phase, the system will not provide public alerts.

This is something we can use here in the Philippines, but first things first – we need to be totally wired before such can happen.

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