Patrick Meier: Using Twitter to Map Blackouts

Crowd-Sourcing, Data, Design, Geospatial, Governance
Patrick Meier
Patrick Meier

Using Twitter to Map Blackouts During Hurricane Sandy

I recently caught up with Gilal Lotan during a hackathon in New York and was reminded of his good work during Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. Amongst other analytics, Gilal created a dynamic map of tweets referring to power outages. “This begins on the evening October 28th as people mostly joke about the prospect of potentially losing power. As the storm evolves, the tone turns much more serious. The darker a region on the map, the more aggregate Tweets about power loss that were seen for that region.” The animated map is captured in the video below.

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In sum, creating live maps of geo-tagged tweets is only a first step. Base-maps should be rapidly developed and overlaid with other datasets such as population and income distribution. Of course, these datasets are not always available acessing historical Twitter data can also be a challenge. The latter explains why Big Data Philanthropy for Disaster Response is so key.

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Phi Beta Iota:  Crisis Mappers and humanitarian information technology pioneers are very rapidly achieving what governance should have achieved 20 years ago — near real time situational awareness in the public interest.  The day will come when the public refuses to fund Industrial-Era governance that is burdened by C4ISR systems that are expensive and useless, while refusing to understand that Network Enabled Capabilities are only useful is they enable everyone, all the time time.  We are so very close — and yet so very far — from transforming everything about how we govern ourselves for the better.

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