Elizabeth Daigneau is GOVERNING's managing editor.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Seismologists with the U.S. Geological Survey are developing a system for tracking earthquakes using Twitter.
It seems every day there's a new story on how government is using Twitter to reach out to its constituents. That's why an effort to develop a system for tracking earthquakes using Twitter is refreshing -- it's an example of how government can use the social networking site not just to improve customer service but to improve its performance. The Twitter Earthquake Detector system gathers real-time, earthquake-related messages from the site within a minute of an earthquake's detection. Overseen by the U.S. Geological Survey, the system pulls these tweets using keywords like "earthquake." It then uses the information to generate an e-mail report that goes out to first responders and emergency management officials containing the magnitude, location, depth below the surface, number of tweets about the earthquake broken down by their location and text of the first 40 or 50 tweets about what people felt and experienced. It helps officials assess earthquake hazards from hundreds and potentially thousands of local users, and helps them speed up, if necessary, response. The system also may help the USGS locate earthquakes that are too small to be detected by its network of sensors. The system is still under development, but its progress can be followed on Twitter. The USGS already provides earthquake notifications via e-mail and text messages to subscribers. If successful, the tool could be applicable to other emergencies and natural disasters.