Results: Analyzing 2 Million Disaster Tweets from Oklahoma Tornado

Thanks to the excellent work carried out by my colleagues Hemant Purohit and Professor Amit Sheth, we were able to collect 2.7 million tweets posted in the aftermath of the Category 4 Tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma. Hemant, who recently spent half-a-year with us at QCRI, kindly took the lead on carrying out some preliminary analysis of the disaster data. He sampled 2.1 million tweets posted during the first 48 hours for the analysis below.

oklahoma-tornado-20

About 7% of these tweets (~146,000 tweets) were related to donations of resources and services such as money, shelter, food, clothing, medical supplies and volunteer assistance. Many of the donations-related tweets were informative in nature, e.g.: “As President Obama said this morning, if you want to help the people of Moore, visit [link]”. Approximately 1.3% of the tweets (about 30,000 tweets) referred to the provision of financial assistance to the disaster-affected population. Just over 400 unique tweets sought non-monetary donations, such as “please help get the word out, we are accepting kid clothes to send to the lil angels in Oklahoma.Drop off.

Exactly 152 unique tweets related to offers of help were posted within the first 48 hours of the Tornado. The vast majority of these were asking how to get involved in helping others affected by the disaster. For example: “Anyone know how to get involved to help the tornado victims in Oklahoma??#tornado #oklahomacity” and “I want to donate to the Oklahoma cause shoes clothes even food if I can.” These two offers of help are actually automatically “matchable”, making the notion of a “Match.com” for disaster response a distinct possibility. Indeed, Hemant has been working with my team and I at QCRI to develop algorithms (classifiers) that not only identify relevant needs/offers from Twitter automatically but also suggests matches as a result.

Some readers may be suprised to learn that “only” several hundred unique tweets (out of 2+million) were related to needs/offers. The first point to keep in mind is that social media complements rather than replaces traditional information sources. All of us working in this space fully recognize that we are looking for the equivalent of needles in a haystack. But these “needles” may contain real-time, life-saving information. Second, a significant number of disaster tweets are retweets. This is not a negative, Twitter is particularly useful for rapid information dissemination during crises. Third, while there were “only” 152 unique tweets offering help, this still represents over 130 Twitter users who were actively seeking ways to help pro bono within 48 hours of the disaster. Plus, they are automatically identifiable and directly contactable. So these volunteers could also be recruited as digital humanitarian volunteers for MicroMappers, for example. Fourth, the number of Twitter users continues to skyrocket. In 2011, Twitter had 100 million monthly active users. This figure doubled in 2012. Fifth, as I’ve explained here, if disaster responders want to increase the number of relevant disaster tweets, they need to create demand for them. Enlightened leadership and policy is necessary. This brings me to point six: we were “only” able to collect ~2 million tweets but suspect that as many as 10 million were posted during the first 48 hours. So humanitarian organizations along with their partners need access to the Twitter Firehose. Hence my lobbying for Big Data Philanthropy.

Finally, needs/offers are hardly the only type of useful information available on Twitter during crises, which is why we developed several automatic classifiers to extract data on: caution and advice, infrastructure damage, casualties and injuries, missing people and eyewitness accounts. In the near future, when our AIDR platform is ready, colleagues from the American Red Cross, FEMA, UN, etc., will be able create their own classifiers on the fly to automatically collect information that is directly relevant to them and their relief operations. AIDR is spearheaded by QCRI colleague ChaTo and myself.

For now though, we simply emailed relevant geo-tagged and time-stamped data on needs/offers to colleagues at the American Red Cross who had requested this information. We also shared data related to gas leaks with colleagues at FEMA and ESRI, as per their request. The entire process was particularly insightful for Hemant and I, so we plan to follow up with these responders to learn how we can best support them again until AIDR becomes operational. In the meantime, check out the Twitris+ platform developed by Amit, Hemant and team at Kno.e.sis

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See also: Analysis of Multimedia Shared on Twitter After Tornado [Link

6 responses to “Results: Analyzing 2 Million Disaster Tweets from Oklahoma Tornado

  1. Richard P. Schmitt

    Please do not send clothes, do not send food; send money.

    Where will agencies obtain money to transport clothes and food to Oklahoma? Clothes and food already sit in stores in Oklahoma less than 30 miles away. Use Google maps to find the stores.

    Donated clothes, would you wear donated clothes to work? Why would anyone expect people in Oklahoma to wear donated clothes.

    The call for clothes and food expresses good intentions, but thought is needed to effectively meet the need. Do not ask the people of Moore to wear clothes or eat food you do not want.

    Comment by former relief worker in East Africa.

    • Thanks for reading, Richard. Your concern is one of the main reasons that our humanitarian partners are interested in automatically identifying this type of information on social media, ie, so they can gently let individuals know what is really necessary vs unnecessary.

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