Twitter is a new data channel for emergency managers to source public information for situational awareness and as a means of engaging with the community during disaster response and recovery activities. Twitter has been used successfully to identify emergency events, obtain crowd sourced information as the event unfolds, provide up-to-date information to the affected community from authoritative agencies, and conduct resource planning.
Natural disasters have increased in severity and frequency in recent years. According to Guha-Sapir et al. (2011), in 2010, 385 natural disasters killed over 297,000 people worldwide, impacted 217 million human lives, and cost the global economy an estimated US$123.9 billion. There are numerous examples from around the world: the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami; the more recent 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which damaged the Fukushima nuclear power station; hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in 2005 and 2012 respectively; the 2010 China floods, which caused widespread devastation; and Victoria's 2009 “Black Saturday” bushfires in Australia, killing 173 people and having an estimated A$2.9 billion in total losses (Stephenson, Handmer, & Haywood, 2012).
With urban development occurring on coastlines and spreading into rural areas, houses and supporting infrastructure are expanding into high-risk regions. The growing world population is moving into areas progressively more prone to natural disasters and unpredictable weather events. These events have been increasing in frequency and severity in recent years (Hawkins et al., 2012).
It has been recognized that information published by the general public on social media is relevant to emergency managers and that social media is a useful means of providing information to communities that may be impacted by emergency events (Lindsay, 2011; Anderson, 2012). To prepare and respond to such emergency situations effectively, it is critical that emergency managers have relevant and reliable information. For example, bushfire management is typically a regional government responsibility, and each jurisdiction has its own agency that takes the lead in coordinating community preparedness and responding to bushfires when they occur.