Recent research on automatic analysis of social media data during disasters has given insight into how to provide valuable and timely information to formal response agencies—and members of the public—in these safety-critical situations. For the most part, this work has followed a bottom-up approach in which data are analyzed first, and the target audience’s needs are addressed later. Here, we adopt a top-down approach in which the starting point are information needs. We focus on the aid agency tasked with coordinating humanitarian response within the United Nations: OCHA, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. When disasters occur, OCHA must quickly make decisions based on the most complete picture of the situation they can obtain. They are responsible for organizing search and rescue operations, emergency food assistance, and similar tasks. Given that complete knowledge of any disaster event is not possible, they gather information from myriad available sources, including social media. In this paper, we examine the rapid assessment procedures used by OCHA, and explain how they executed these procedures during the 2013 Typhoon Yolanda. In addition, we interview a small sample of OCHA employees, focusing on their uses and views of social media data. In addition, we show how state-of-the-art social media processing methods can be used to produce information in a format that takes into account what large international humanitarian organizations require to meet their constantly evolving needs.
Qatar Computing Research Institute, Doha, Qatar
Integrating Social Media Communications into the Rapid Assessment of Sudden Onset Disasters