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Helping the Austrian government evaluate social media for disasters

When the Austrian Federal Ministry of Interior wanted to evaluate the use of social media to improve disaster management and emergency response, it turned to AI experts PublicSonar. The result of our collaborative research project was iLiKe – an innovative, intelligent situation information portal to support emergency organizations for disaster management. Learn more about harnessing social media for disaster management.
Research team investigates how to use social media to improve disaster and emergency response.

How to Prevent or Mitigate Disasters in Austria?

Civil protection in Austria is the responsibility of SKKM, the National Crisis and Disaster Management Committee, which involves the Ministry of the Interior, police, civil protection, and fire brigade.

Recognizing that social media could be an invaluable source of time-sensitive information during a crisis, SKKM wanted to evaluate how it could use social media to improve situational awareness and help prevent or mitigate disasters.

SKKM knew that disaster response, security, and humanitarian aid organizations had tried to leverage social media information for more than a decade. But several challenges had prevented much progress, including:

  • The increasing flood of social media platforms and messages
  • Building a technical infrastructure capable of exploiting such data
  • The limited human capacity to quickly process masses of information.

 

A Research Project is Born

Consequently, SKKM commissioned a research project funded by KIRAS, an Austrian research program that focuses on the security of Austrian society. The consortium included a wide variety of public safety experts, including:

  • Graz University of Technology
  • AIT Austrian Institute of Technology
  • IFES Institute for Empirical Social Research
  • Austrian Federal Ministry of Interior (BMI)
  • PublicSonar
  • Intergraph/ Hexagon
  • ALES Austrian Center for Law Enforcement Sciences, University of Vienna

 

The Goal of the iLike Project

During a disaster, public safety and security organizations are under tremendous pressure. They need to mitigate the effects of the event and prevent escalation. Response teams need real-time situational awareness from the scene to make optimal decisions.

Even before first responders arrive, members of the public on the scene often post about the situation on social media. If emergency services can find a way to harness social media for disaster management, they could significantly improve their response.
So, the project’s goal was to facilitate the collection of valid information from the public about areas affected by disasters to enhance emergency response decision-making.

Research Methods and Deliverables

The research team systematically surveyed, evaluated, and prioritized processes and user requirements. As a result, the team built iLiKe, a proof-of-concept system.
iLiKe enables users from national crisis management centers to work with different application scenarios for social media, including:

  • Collection of information
  • Detection of events
  • Following topics
  • Analyzing content
  • Understanding public sentiment
  • Managing informed response to crises

We found PublicSonar an easy-to-use platform. It provided an intuitive way to harness the power of artificial intelligence to identify relevant posts from numerous sources.

Johannes Pan - Project lead, Graz University of Technology

PublicSonar’s Contribution

PublicSonar provided its innovative technology to monitor social media data during real-life events, including:

  • A terrorist attack in Vienna
  • The SkiFlying World Cup in Kulm
  • The night race in Schladming
  • Covid measures in Austria
  • Formula 1 in Spielberg
  • Annual Akademikerball Wien
How social media posts can help emergency services. Case study Vienna terrorist attack.
Social media messages timeline Vienna terrorist attack November 2020

Findings and conclusions

The research confirmed the value of integrating multiple data sources into a central system. Operations managers and social media experts rated the results very positively. Moreover, they identified the following positive outcomes:

  • Improved information gathering
  • Merging different data sources
  • Anticipation of potential dangers
  • An improved basis for decision-making

 

The most important outcome from the project was convincing the Austrian Federal Ministry of Interior that the information available from social media was crucial for enhancing situational awareness in a crisis and improving emergency response.

Read the full report here.

Want a step-by-step guide to harnessing social media for disaster management? Watch our free 30-minutes webinar.

How can emergency services use social media to improve situational awareness and emergency response?
Improving disaster management

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