A young girl wades through flood water in Jakarta. Reuters

They may not provide comprehensive information, but they can help save lives.

While Twitter may not offer a comprehensive picture of a phenomenon or an event, it can provide fast, real-time information about a large-scale disaster—like a flood—as it unfolds.

A new study by Dutch flood monitoring organizations Deltares and Floodtags finds that the tweets in Jakarta, Indonesia, rose to 900 per minute after a recent flood hit, and contained important information about location and depth of the flood waters. After an analysis of these tweets, Dutch researchers designed a method to produce a real-time map using information from Twitter, land elevation stats, and water motion data, Reuters reports:

"This method is really fast," Deltares flood expert Dirk Eilander told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It can produce a map within around a minute of messages being posted."

Not everyone can tweet during a disaster. But where there is Twitter activity, a tweet-based map can help save lives in an event where every minute counts. Plus, once the researchers double-checked and cross-referenced information from the tweets, the final flood map was pretty close to a photograph of the flood, they say.

PetaJakarta.org, an Indonesia-based open-source platform, used crowd-sourced information from Twitter to make a real-time map during the floods this year. According to the Jakarta Post, the organization received around 6,000 flood-related tweets in January and February.  

"People are really getting into it; they go right into the flood and report the depth [of floodwater] and even take a selfie,” Etienne Turpin, the organization's co-principal investigator told the Jakarta Post in February.

Here's an example of a Tweet-based real-time flood map, posted on Twitter's blog in December 2014:

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    What Happens When a City Tries to End Traffic Deaths

    Several years into a ten-year “Vision Zero” target, some cities that took on a radical safety challenge are seeing traffic fatalities go up.

  2. photo: Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar
    Equity

    What a Trillion-Dollar Housing Pledge Looks Like

    Representative Ilhan Omar’s Homes for All Act would fund the construction of 12 million new homes in the U.S. over 10 years, mostly as public housing.  

  3. photo: An array of solar panels in Oakland, California.
    Environment

    When Residents Support Solar—Just ‘Not in My Backyard’

    While the American public broadly favors expanding renewable energy, that support doesn’t always extend to the photovoltaic panels next door.

  4. photo: A Starship Technologies commercial delivery robot navigates a sidewalk.
    POV

    My Fight With a Sidewalk Robot

    A life-threatening encounter with AI technology convinced me that the needs of people with disabilities need to be engineered into our autonomous future.

  5. Life

    Talent May Be Shifting Away From Superstar Cities

    According to a new analysis, places away from the coasts in the Sunbelt and West are pulling ahead when it comes to attracting talented workers.

×