Volcanic Eruptions in Indonesia: Searching for Fallout on Twitter

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Does real-time feedback from citizens have a role to play in tracking volcanic eruption-related emergencies in Indonesia?

With approximately five million people in Indonesia vulnerable to the often devastating aftermath of large-scale volcanic eruptions, we certainly need as broad a toolkit as possible for reducing risks and improving disaster response.

Emergency responders, in particular, value granular data on the unfolding emergency in order to target their efforts and to keep themselves safe.

Social sensor networks

Previous studies have found that social media is an effective channel for both gathering and disseminating information during disasters. Mediacenter collects and disseminates relevant information for disaster relief agencies in Indonesia, but further opportunities exist to analyse the data generated by social media connected to disasters and, thus, to generate further insights.

Pulse Lab Jakarta conducted a feasibility study by analyzing Twitter activity during and immediately after volcanic eruptions in order to gather real-time opinions and feedback from citizens.

The data was collected between January 2013 and March 2014 and reflects responses to eruptions at four volcanoes: Rokatenda, Lokon, Sinabung, Kelud. From a total of 481,054 tweets near these locations, 355,875, or 74 percent, were relevant to this study.

Approach

The first step was quantitative analysis: using Crimson Hexagon Forsight, a web-based social media analytics platform, to determine the number of tweets during the eruptions and the percentage of those tweets relating to each eruption.

Only tweets with specific information about the eruptions and related events during the selected time period were considered to be relevant.

This initial analysis revealed that each eruption saw a corresponding rise in Twitter activity, with four spikes observed in the twitter-sphere from January 2013 to March 2014.

After these initial findings, we conducted a manual, qualitative analysis of more than 4,200 tweets connected to the Sinabung eruptions to identify the most discussed topics and thus the most pressing issues surrounding that particular disaster.

The manual analysis revealed the top five most discussed topics on Twitter after the eruptions included:

  • The status of displaced people
  • Support from the private sector
  • The needs of children
  • The overall status of the volcanic eruptions
  • Support from the government

Other relevant topics included the personal status of victims, support from within communities, casualty information, support from NGOs, sanitation needs, protests directed at the authorities, historical information about the volcano, crime, food and water needs, and public health issues.

Recommendations

These findings demonstrate a high level of situational awareness translating to social media activity, supporting the initial, automated findings that Indonesians do turn to social media to discuss volcanic eruptions, leading to a large volume of tweets related to these disasters.

Tracking the most discussed topics during and after eruptions might help to develop situational awareness, as well as to refine preparation and response strategies to target the specific needs of affected communities.

The results of this study confirm the utility of twitter as a social sensing tool for disaster response management in Indonesia. Of course, different disasters present different sets of challenges for management and relief, but social media has the potential to aid disaster preparedness, reaction, and recovery.

We are always looking for creative ways to use new tech and existing sources of digital data to address public policy challenges. Please get in touch if you have an idea that you would like to field test in Asia-Pacific.

 

Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Government of Australia.

Top image: Mount Bromo and Mount Semeru, Indonesia, both erupting [Boris Doesborg, 2007]

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