There has been much discussion recently regarding the use of Social Media as a situational awareness tool for public safety organizations. A frequent comment heard from public safety officials when faced with the idea of using this tool is how they can possibly sort through the massive amount of information available on social media and where they should even begin. While attending a presentation today on the topic of social media in emergency management this topic came to the surface and I felt compelled to offer a short story to the group as well as a potential solution.
In late 2009 Google launched a new search feature that is specifically designed to provide the most recent information on the internet regarding the search terms that you provide. Google Real-Time search provides results from traditional news sources and blogs as well as social content from Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other social networks. To get an idea of how this can work, go to http://www.google.com/realtime and search for a current event. Emergency Managers may utilize this service without the need for having any accounts on social networks and can see the search results even if their organization blocks direct access to social media on their network.
While certainly not an all inclusive solution for extrapolating situational awareness data from social sources, if you spend a little time experimenting with Google Real-Time Search during unfolding events, you may find it to be a gateway drug in the concept of social data mining. In future posts we will also examine additional tools that are available to emergency managers to harvest, validate, and curate social data.