Twituational awareness: gaining situational awareness via crowdsourced #disaster epidemiology
Cain, Daniel T.
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Public health and other agencies need situational awareness to respond effectively to disasters or other incidents. Traditional means of obtaining this information require significant time and personnel. Social media is becoming increasingly popular among American citizens, and research is demonstrating that it may be a useful tool for bolstering information about unfolding events. This research analyzed the potential of the microblogging service Twitter in providing situational awareness. Tweets from a major snowstorm affecting the state of Massachusetts were collected, coded for content, and compared to traditional public health methods. The results indicate that Twitter can provide a rich source of data for responding agencies. Still, the immense volume of conversations makes extracting useful information in a timely manner a significant challenge. Practical approaches uncovered during this research can help agencies with nascent social media surveillance programs begin to unearth the valuable information that Twitter contains. Collaboration with information technology experts could allow public health and other responding agencies to create even greater value from social media platforms.
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