Social Media Analysis Aids in Washington Mudslide Response

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A social media monitoring tool developed in 2013 by Pierce County (WA), got its first real-world use in March during search and rescue efforts following the massive mudslide in Washington State.

Known as the FirstToSee Emergency Support System, the tool was used to search Twitter for the word “missing,” and relevant tweets were provided to emergency response officials.

Pierce County IT Director Linda Gerull says it's too early to gauge what impact the new technology had on efforts to rescue victims of the massive slide that hit rural Oso (WA) on March 22. So far, 33 people are confirmed dead and a dozen are still missing.

The monitoring system leverages existing social media technologies to "greatly improve emergency preparedness and management" in the Puget Sound region, according to the Piece County. Gerull said the idea for the FirstToSee system was developed by local emergency management professionals after noticing the public flocking to social media outlets to report incidents during times of crisis.

“This is not a replacement for 911,” she said. “It is used for non-life-threatening calls and allows us to see reports of flooding, what roads are closed and where there are trees down.” The new system is the result of a $550,000 Homeland Security Grant from the federal government and was developed by staff from Pierce County and the nonprofit Pacific Northwest Economic Region Foundation.

Social Media Analysis Aids in Washington Mudslide Response