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USGS Looks To Twitter For Speedy Quake Alerts


Video still of the beta version of Shake Alert, an earthquake early warning system being developed by the USGS along with a coalition of university partners.

Video still of the beta version of Shake Alert, an earthquake early warning system being developed by the USGS along with a coalition of university partners.

Pacific Northwest Seismic Network

The U.S. Geological Survey is exploring the use of Twitter to collect and analyze accounts of earthquakes around the world.

It’s undeniable that we live in the age of the smartphone. When something interesting happens, people pull out their phones to tell everyone about it — even when it’s an earthquake.

By monitoring Twitter for words like “earthquake,” and by filtering out longer tweets — under the assumption people experiencing a quake aren’t very chatty — the USGS has been able to develop a new way to send rapid quake alerts.

Speaking on a USGS website, agency scientist Michelle Guy said tweets have the potential to sometimes be quicker than the agency’s own scientifically-verified alerts.

“In densely instrumented regions, like California, USGS locations and magnitudes are produced within two to three minutes of an event,” Guy said. “This time increases up to 20 minutes for earthquakes in sparsely instrumented regions around the world.”

Despite the quick response from social media users, Guy makes it clear that Twitter only serves as an augmentation to established alert systems.

She said Twitter is good for speed, but has problems with location and magnitude accuracy.

The agency is looking into broadcasting quake alerts through Twitter. But since there are about 50 earthquakes each day, the problem is to not overwhelm users.

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