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Crystal Kile and Nancy Mock

Newcomb College Center for Research on Women

10 01 2008

Fig 1. Illustrates volumes and patterns of Twitter communications of hurricane-

related keywords. Gustav made landfall September 1, 2008. The second/aqua
peak represents the October 13, 2008 Ike landfall. Keyword trend graphs during
Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike events on communication utility
(Generated by

Social media practices and technologies are increasingly used by both the public
and the disaster management community throughout the long arcs of events such
as hurricanes and earthquakes. Since 1999, the Internet has been overtaking other
means of knowledge dissemination. Online community forums -- especially those
attached to local mainstream news outlets such as -- have long been
used to exchange information among members of disaster-affected communities.
Over the past three years, the social web phenomenon – combined with the surge
in popularity of devices like laptops, blackberries, and iPhones – has made it
possible to aggregate increasingly sophisticated bulk information about events in
real time, and has inspired a new class of disaster geek civil defense activist.

For professionals and citizens involved in disaster management, the development

of communications utilities like Twitter represent a quantum leap from the options
available to work around the mass communications breakdown at all levels in the
aftermath of Katrina. Twitter is a mass-market mobile solution for instantaneous
multimedia communication while on the move.

Twitter is a free microblogging service established in 2006. Twitterers are limited

to 140 characters per entry, but have web, text (SMS), and email access to
updates -- one can send and receive Twitter messages ("tweets") as text messages
via even the most basic cellphone. Users can also add photos and links to
messages, and direct Twitter feeds to post automatically as part of the content
flow of one's presence on sites like Facebook, or on a personal or institutional
blog. Twitter users elect to "follow" and be "followed" by other users, and can
also use simple line commands to send personal and direct (private) messages to
one another through the service. The variety of interfaces through which users can
choose to send and receive messages via Twitter is a great strength in any
emergency situation, as is the capability to communicate on the move while geo-
referencing one's exact location. It is also easy for users to follow topics and
make new connections by monitoring multiple feeds in real-time and by accessing
topical patterns and trends in archived messages via utilities like,, and

Fig 2. Twitter content patterns reflect general concerns as the shift over time during
the arc of a particular disaster. The word "evacuation" is represented by the gold
pyramids peaking approximately 36 hours before landfalls of Hurricanes Gustav
and Ike 13 days apart
Fig 3. An interesting observation is that "Gustav" and "New Orleans" demonstrate
activity nearly equal to "Ike" and "Houston" on the graphs of storm-related Twitter
activity, even though the areas affected by Ike represent a much larger
population. This might reflect a differing perception of risk or the influence of
mandatory evacuation -- something for further research. How might one interpret
the purple line graphing the keyword "power" through the Hurricane Gustav and
Ike events?

In a notable September 2, 2008 ABC News web article, Ki Mae Heussner

reported on Gustav as the first "twittered" disaster, and interviewed New Orleans
bloggers and Twitterers who commented with satisfaction on the successful
deployment and informational value of social media during preparation for and
during the event, as well as for connecting to relief efforts. Posts and articles like
"50 Emergency Uses for your Camera Phone" circulated widely on Twitter during
the hurricanes. Some Gulf Coast bloggers and "storm twitterers" have become
active in efforts like the Hurricane Information Center crystallized on the Ning
social network through collaboration begun on Twitter during Hurricanes Gustav
and Ike.

The current New Orleans social media moment is one of consciousness of the
potentials of social networking for civil defense. It is ripe for research on the
experiences of early adopters of Twitter to help us understand deployment of
social media during all phrases of a disaster. Twitter proved itself during
Hurricanes Gustav and Ike as a promising tool for disaster-related
communications, and it has applications in the following areas

• Early warning - weather and other alerts

• Preparedness -- organization of evacuation, preparation to hunker down,
information about available resources
• Situational awareness before, during, and after event -- multi-tiered,
personalized, distributed
• Navigation (geolocational and services) before event, at evacuation point,
during return
• Response/helping direct resources in immediate aftermath
• Short-term recovery
• Long-term recovery


Heussner, Ki Mae. "Social Media Proves Itself as Emergency Tool: Through

Microblogging, Hurricane Victims Across the South Stayed in Touch." ABC News.
Accessible at

Purcell, Paul. "50 Emergency Uses for your Camera Phone." Twittered widely
during Gustav and Ike, and retrieved from

Meier, P., 2007-02-28 "Two Papers: [1] "Networking Disaster and Conflict Early
Warning Systems for Environmental Security" & [2] "New Strategies for Early
Response: Insights from Complexity Science" Paper presented at the annual
meeting of the International Studies Association 48th Annual Convention, Hilton
Chicago, CHICAGO, IL, USA Online <APPLICATION/PDF>. 2008-09-13 from


The Hurricane Information Center (NING)

Site intended to be space for aggregation of info and human resources for prep,
event, recovery; Twitter

Archives of #Gustav and #Ike tweets

Sign up for Twitter and access the service web interface at this address
Official search engine
Twist tracks twitter trends by keyword or hashtag, and its sister utility is
No advanced search options, but one can pull the search engine into one's
browser search toolbar
Track most popular links associated with keywords or hashtags
Follow and up to 6 real-time Twitter feed keywords in a browser window
Real-time live Twitter monitor. Good interface. Allow one to monitor feed w/in
variable radius of zip code
Real-time Twitter analytics; bar graphing tie-in (2 mos/week)
Crossfreferences Twitter relationships status, precursor app to Tweeple Track
Twitter fan-generated knowledge base. Great learning resource for all levels of

Please accept the invitation of Tut, Sophielab Underassistant Director of Twitter

Communications, to follow nccrow and sophielab: