Australian academics are eyeing a novel tool in their bid to defend Jakarta from monsoonal flash flooding: Twitter.
They’ll plot flood-related tweets on a map to create a living picture of where the floods hit hardest.
The information could help divert flood protection to where it is needed most, says Dr Tom Holderness from the University of Wollongong.
“Jakarta residents are well-known for their love of social media,” he says.
“The Twitter data about flooding will have a wealth of information to help us understand and improve urban resilience.”
In January the city of 10 million was paralysed by the worst floods in several years, with more than 30,000 residents evacuated.
The idea was enough to convince Twitter to award Dr Holderness and his team one of just six highly-coveted “data grants” from a pool of over 1300 applications.
The program, unveiled in February, provides select research projects access to Twitter’s vast horde of tweets.
Dr Holderness’ team tested their tweet-mapping platform during the recent devastating floods, but say the data grant will help perfect it.
They’ll examine how closely flood-related tweets posted during several monsoon seasons match the government’s flood maps, and which parts of the city are hardest hit.
The results should help increase government transparency and give everyday Jakartans more say about where flood defences are erected.
“We hope to move from noise to knowledge,” Dr Holderness says.
A year-long pilot study will begin in May, ahead of the start of monsoon season in November.
In a similar project last year, firefighters used Twitter to map and respond quickly to bushfires that tore through NSW’s Blue Mountains.
Software designed by the CSIRO sounded an alarm whenever a cluster of hot words, such as “fire” or “evacuation” popped up.
It pinpointed the precise location and could also distinguish between false alarms and emergencies.
Announcing the grants program in February, Twitter claimed to handle more than 500 million posts daily.
The other five grants went to researchers investigating topics as diverse as food poisoning, early cancer detection campaigns, and whether Twitter affects the performance of sports teams.
Another will use Twitter to measure the happiness of cities around the world.
Twitter says it plans to extend the program in future via Gnip, a social data firm it acquired in recent weeks for an undisclosed sum.