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Australia’s emergency services use social media to tackle bush blaze

Australia’s emergency services use social media to tackle bush blaze

Firefighters in the New South Wales region of Australia have been using Twitter as a means of responding to the area’s bushfire crisis.

While the rescue services previously relied on communication methods such as radio and calls made to 000 – the country’s emergency line – firefighters can now use software that monitors Twitter and seeks out clusters of words such as ‘bushfire’ or simply ‘fire’ being published.

The Emergency Situation Awareness (ESA) program was the brainchild of Australian scientists and has been put together by developers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or CSIRO.

According to data, since the start of this week around 30,000 tweets, posted from the crisis region, have appeared on Twitter newsfeeds containing the word ‘fire’. Additionally, 18,000 have featured ‘bushfire’, a further 9,000 the word ‘emergencies’ and around 2,000 have used ‘evacuations’.

Using the new ESA software, specialists are able to pinpoint each tweet’s location, and can even tell which may point to real emergencies and which are only false alarms.

CSIRO’s ultimate aim is to combine the new ESA software with an existing program called Emergency Response Intelligence Capability, or ERIC, which allows authorities to make predictions regarding the long-term impact that disasters have.

As it has been in development since 2008, ESA is believed to have already been implemented in other crises. Speaking about the software, one of CSIRO’s scientists, Alan Dormer, said it points to the beginning of a new age for the emergency services – one in which specialists are able to easily collate vital information about a crisis and take appropriate action.

Richard Bell

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