Those who live in areas frequently hit by flooding are often well-prepared for the consequences. In the U.S., more than 5.5 million people hold a flood insurance policy to protect against the financial devastation that flood damage can cause.
But what about the billions of civilians without flood insurance, let alone a plan of action to protect themselves when a flood hits unexpectedly? On average, about 6,753 people are killed by floods each year — and in most cases, these deaths could be easily prevented by pinpointing aid efforts to areas most in need.
There might finally be a way to save these lives, however — and Twitter might hold the answer.
According to Business Insider Australia, spontaneous tweets about major floods are being turned into a mapping tool that will help emergency service and disaster response teams to better direct their aid and save lives.
The mapping tool, developed in a joint study by two Dutch organisations, Deltares and Floodtags, was created on the notion that people are increasingly relying on social media to tell them about crisis and disastrous weather.
This was especially evident when Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, was hit with flooding in February. As Jakarta’s streets flooded, 900 tweets related to the floods were being sent every minute, and included information about the depth and location of the flooding.
The teams from Deltares and Floodtags took these tweets and combined them with data on land elevation and water motion to create a system that draws up flood maps in real time.
“This method is really fast,” Deltares flood expert Dirk Eilander explained. “It can produce a map within around a minute of messages being posted.”
And even in its early stages, the researchers’ method is surprisingly accurate. Business Insider Australia reported that when the map’s results were compared with actual photos of the flooding at more than 100 points, the researchers found that the method accurately modeled the floods in about two thirds of the locations.
“Although there is still some room for improvement, these maps are very useful information for emergency services to … find the people who are affected or to plan for evacuation routes,” Eilander said.
While the flood-mapping method has yet to be tested in a real-life emergency situation, the researchers say they plan to make the data available via the Floodtags website.