Twitter and the seismologists at the U.S. Geological Survey have teamed up since 2009, and have now produced a new system for more accurate emergency alerts. The new system relies completely on the use of the Twitter platform by the public. If someone tweets ‘earthquake’ in any of the eight languages used on Twitter, then they are helping American scientists improve their tracking of the destructive natural phenomena.

Twitter Helping US Scientists Track Earthquakes Better

Short and to the point tweets relevant

In a blog post on Wednesday, Twitter described the new Tweet Emergency Dispatch. Under the program, the micro-blogging firm gets paid by USGS to share the data. The program automatically sorts the tweets from Twitter’s 316 million active users. When tweets from people in a specific area are about earthquakes, then an alert is sent to the government researchers.

A seismologist at the federal agency, Paul Earle, said “It’s not a revolutionary change in what we do, but it just gives us that extra minute to start on our response.”

Over the last few years, the scientists have fine-tuned the system with help from earthquakes that took place during that time. The system now ignores irrelevant tweets more effectively, and does not pay heed to news stories and everyday conversations about earthquakes. The most relevant tweets are short and to the point as it is believed that during a violent shaking, people in that region won’t have time to write long tweets.

How Twitter data helps?

Twitter data can also help in that it alerts scientists to an earthquake that seismological sensors did not pick up due to some fault. It can also help them pinpoint an  earthquake in places where no sensors were present.

For example, a magnitude five earthquake last year was picked by seismic sensors in California, and alert regarding it was placed on USGS website. However, Earle realized that something was wrong as he did not see any unusual chatter on his Twitter alert system. Eventually, it was found that it wasa technical error and no earthquake ever took place.

“That’s the key,” Earle said. “The data stream from Twitter is totally independent. It’s a secondary check.”

USGS National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado has 2,000 devices that listen to tiny movements in the earth’s crust, but outside the U.S. there are only about half that number spread out across the globe.