Crowdsourced Open Data in Crisis Management

By Conrad Bielski and Gunter Zeug.



Can you help us? We are trying to identify the locations seen in this picture. Please send your responses to @MelodiesProject via Twitter or post a comment below.


Puedes ayudarnos? Estamos tratando de descubrir los lugares que se muestran en esta imagen. Por favor envía tus respuestas @MelodiesProject a través de Twitter o publica un comentario más abajo.

Somewhere along the Ebro river in Spain. Picture shared by Pili_stage on 02.03.2015 12:00:55 with the comment "RT @InfoEmerg: Espactacular: #riada en pueblos de la ribera - #Ebro @raulbazanavarro"

In February of this year (2015), the Ebro river in Spain flooded twice within a single month. It was attributed to accumulated precipitation being 200% greater than the expected average (WMO - Monthly Bulletin on the Climate in WMO Region VI - Europe and Middle East, February 2015) and affected the city of Zaragoza and surrounding areas. During this event, the Copernicus Emergency Management Service activated the Rapid Mapping service twice to help with the disaster response. Throughout the inundation event, however, people affected by the flooding and those supporting the victims also took to social media to describe their situations and express their opinions.

Social media today has become an important information channel. Citizens use platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to report their observations and inform friends and families about their wellbeing. They can also send help requests directly to emergency response organisations. These same organisations use social media to inform citizens about their response activities and the overall emergency situation. This novel two-way information flow is also much faster than traditional disaster communications because the crowd can have eyes in many more places at once. One of the advantages of this form of communication is that the sender using a mobile device can provide descriptions, pictures, and location information. Plus, the large amount of data being made available makes it possible to build a comprehensive situational overview.

A news crew can only be in one place at a time whereas social media users are distributed where the action is, potentially providing important and actionable information.

The Twitter user pablopbf tweeted a picture on March 1, 2015 at 13h28 showing the condition of the Ebro river with the following comment:

"Increíble cómo está el #Ebro en Zaragoza" (loosely translated to "Incredible the state of the Ebro in Zaragoza")

This user provided some contextual information because he was amazed at the state of the river. While the outside world already knew that flooding was occurring in the area, local knowledge can improve information content.

State of the Ebro river in Zaragoza on March 1, 2015. (left) and the coordinates provided by the mobile device when the picture was taken (right - red pin).

The picture that was shared with this particular tweet was also valuable information. From a disaster point of view, this is evidence of the scale of the event and provides visual confirmation about the extent of the inundation.

The third key piece of information is the location where this picture was taken. Since the user allowed Twitter access to the mobile devices GPS coordinates, we can accurately map their location (see map next to river photo) and quickly determine at which point the Ebro river overflowed as shown in the picture.

The Customised Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Mapping service being developed by EOXPLORE and Terranea within the MELODIES project wants to take advantage of the information being produced by social media channels. The potential geospatial information content that can be extracted and integrated with other information sources such as remotely sensed imagery and thematic maps is huge and can improve the manner in which we prepare, respond, and re-build after disaster.

Not all social media messages however, are created equal. For example, during the days of the Zaragoza flood at the end of February 2015, we were able to capture almost 15 000 tweets that used tags relating to the event. Of those tweets, only a small proportion provided relevant information applicable to the service. Of those messages deemed applicable, many still required special attention before they could be integrated into the service.

For emergency response organisations, social media provides opportunities but also challenges because a large amount of data must be filtered in order to extract the relevant and actionable information. Almost 300 million European citizens are active in social networks (We Are Social, 2014). Compared to traditional media and the manner in which news is disseminated, social media has the advantage because its users are made up of a dense network of observers who are able to rapidly publish and share information. This is what makes it so powerful for crisis communication.

The benefit of social media for crisis management is that it is created by a crowd and available to all. Rapid sharing of information would not be possible without such openness. This developing culture of 'Open Data' exchange is an important driver in the data lifecycle because it means that data can be recycled in many forms and re-used in manners not necessarily intended by the original creator to produce new information and insights. This is also one of the goals of the MELODIES project.

Here are some practical pointers to using social media if you ever find yourself in a flood disaster:

  1. NEVER put yourself in a dangerous situation. Always put your safety and the safety of others first;
  2. If you are wiling to share, turn on location services so that your position is known more accurately;
  3. Pictures are worth a thousand words and can improve the context;
  4. If you are in danger, be specific and make sure that your situation is described clearly if you need help;
  5. Plan ahead - get in touch with your local civil protection authority and ask for information about how to prepare.


Submitted by Gary Holmes (not verified) on Fri, 2016-09-16 19:00
The photo is looking east along the Ebro with Gallur in the foreground and Alcala de Ebro in the distance. What's the prize?!

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