UOW researchers named in International Red Cross World Disasters Report 2015

A flood mapping system using Tweets that was developed by University of Wollongong researchers has been praised in this year’s International Red Cross World Disasters Report as a case study of community-level response to disasters.

SAVING LIVES: Dr Tomas Holderness and Dr Etienne Turpin have developed a program to turn Twitter into an emergency response tool used in Indonesia. Picture: Paul Jones

SAVING LIVES: Dr Tomas Holderness and Dr Etienne Turpin have developed a program to turn Twitter into an emergency response tool used in Indonesia. Picture: Paul Jones

Dr Tomas Holderness and Dr Etienne Turpin led a team of researchers who developed a system that is now being used by the Indonesian government to assist in responding to natural disasters.

Two per cent of the world’s Twitter activity comes from Jakarta whilst it’s one of the world’s fastest developing cities and prone to flooding during the monsoon season, the research team thought it the perfect test case to use real-time information and geo-tag it.

Dr Holderness said in the Indonesian capital - a mega-city of 14 million people - everyone is connected to the internet, with more than half owning two smartphones. However laptops or desktop computers were not common.

“The potential was there to use informal communication networks as immediate tools for disaster response,” he said. “We can instantly turn something like Twitter into an emergency communication network for the duration of the disaster.”

The way they do this is writing messages to people to confirm the situation on the ground with photo and video posts, though the process became so effective it became the primary data source.

Dr Holderness said there were a lot of developing nations that were spawning mega cities, and expanding too quickly to be able to form traditional flood models like in Australia because the physical urban environment was constantly changing.

He said the potential applicability of the project could help save millions of lives, as there were 20 mega-cities in the South East Asian region with 18 of those experiencing flooding in the past decade.

UOW's Dr Tomas Holderness

UOW's Dr Tomas Holderness

www.PetaJakarta.org is a web-based platform that runs on custom built open source software known as CogniCity.

The system turns geo-tagged Tweets into valuable data, is transferable and could readily be deployed in other cities to address issues such as waste management, transport and traffic congestion, weather emergencies, elections and governance.

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