Use Technology to Whittle Flood of Tweets After Transportation Incidents, Industry Urged

News agencies, eyewitnesses and first responders are increasingly using social media as a platform to break and update news on emergencies as they unfold.

Twitter is highly regarded as a useful tool for reporting information in real time. The 280-character limit requires users to post concise accounts that detail only the most important information. But it can also lead to data-dumps in the midst of emergencies, making it hard for industry professionals in particular to keep up with the information they need in order to respond appropriately.

This issue as it relates to the transportation industry was discussed Monday at the Transport Security Congress conference “Security and Safety for Mass Transport in the Digital Age” in Washington during a workshop about “using real-time social media data to make faster, smart safety decisions.” During this workshop, the program Dataminr was highlighted as a solution to sifting through the mass quantity of information flooding social media during transportation emergencies.

Dataminr, founded in 2009, is a service that creates real-time breaking news alerts from public social media activity and notifies people instantly. Organizations can use it as a tool to provide a snapshot of what is happening during breaking-news events, saving time and freeing up employees who would otherwise be sorting through social-media alerts.

Chris Gormley, the director of corporate security in client engagement for Dataminr, said Dataminr’s efficacy has been proven during emergencies such as the Florida International University bridge collapse in March and the subsequent flow of information via social media.

“Being able to cut through that and give you 10 to 15 tweets that give you an idea of what’s going on is really helpful,” Gormley said. “It frees analysts up.”

During a Q&A segment following the short presentation, attendees discussed challenges with the low-tech environment in which some of their agencies and organizations operate, making it difficult to integrate newer technology such as a service like Dataminr.

Gormley broke down the details on how the interface works, stressing what he described as such a program’s ability to free up employees by performing the aggregation and filtering process automatically,

“It’s a web-based platform,” Gormley said. “We give you reference terms to give you some further research ammunition, and we’ll give you an event timeline based on other tweets.”

Gormley said Dataminr also provides information on individual Twitter handles and the traffic those users receive on a day-to-day basis, which helps with evaluating the legitimacy of sources.

In an age where news events unfold on social media, Gormley said the filtering program offers transportation-industry officials with a tool that will make responding to and keeping up with emergencies easier.

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