screenshot from Social Media Analytics and Reporting Toolkit  (Purdue University Engineering/YouTube)

Finding social posts that matter in emergency situations

Researchers at Purdue University have created a tool they say will help first responders by finding relevant posts on social media that correspond to emergency situations.

The Social Media Analytics and Reporting Toolkit (SMART)  uses free application programming interfaces from Twitter and Instagram to pull posts from a certain geographic region, filter them based on specific keywords, examine clusters of posts, and flag trending or unusual topics.

A project of Purdue’s Visual Analytics for Command, Control and Interoperability Environments (VACCINE), SMART offers a map-based interface that allows tens of thousands of social media posts to be sorted and analyzed in real time. Users can build and customize keyword filters interactively and visually on the fly, which is key for making decisions in time-sensitive situations, such as disaster and accident response.

SMART's visual analysis that allows users to observe, supervise and configure each analysis process, according to the project's research brief. It can also visualize crowd-movement patterns and trajectories using social media data at various scales of analysis to show anomalies and outliers. Users can also search web and news media sources and get email alerts for specific topics.

The browser-based tool is already being used by the Purdue Police Department to monitor large events like university football games, and the researchers plan to make it more widely available.

“The goal of the project is now to transform it into a tool that’s available that first responders can download for their phone and be able to use in a crisis situation,” said VACCINE Director David Ebert.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a reporter/producer at GCN.

Before joining GCN, Leonard worked as a local reporter for The Smithfield Times in southeastern Virginia. In his time there he wrote about town council meetings, local crime and what to do if a beaver dam floods your back yard. Over the last few years, he has spent time at The Commonwealth Times, The Denver Post and WTVR-CBS 6. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received the faculty award for print and online journalism.

Leonard can be contacted at or follow him on Twitter @Matt_Lnrd.

Click here for previous articles by Leonard.

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