This is a news release from William Carey University
A professor and students from the William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine have received international recognition for a four-part series of articles focusing on the use of social network Twitter as a communications tool in crisis situations.
The articles, entitled "Twitter as a Potential Disaster Risk Reduction Tool," were published in June by PLOS Currents: Disasters, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The authors of the articles included Dr. Italo Subbarao, an associate dean and associate professor at Carey's medical college; Guy Paul Cooper Jr., a second-year Carey medical student from Wheaton, Illinois; and Violet Yeager, a third-year Carey medical student from New Orleans. Serving as a collaborative partner was Dr. Frederick "Skip" Burkle Jr., a Harvard University scholar.
As the culmination of two years of extensive research, the articles examine the use of Twitter during the EF4 tornado that struck the Hattiesburg area in February 2013 and apply Twitter's usefulness to other crisis situations through 11 core public health and disaster management competencies. Subbarao and the team of student researchers compared the tornado's relatively few injuries and zero fatalities to similar instances across the United States and then factored in the strong use of the social network.
"Twitter created a broader awareness about this tornado," said Subbarao. "This was the first time the National Weather Service in Jackson purposefully employed Twitter with Dual-Pol radar as a means of awareness … and you had many other real-time messages giving people updates."
The team created a new methodology to study Twitter and its impact during disasters by isolating and extracting the Twitter messages, or tweets, from the tornado's time period. The data revealed how much information was shared on Twitter during the time period and showed the social network's usefulness in reducing disaster risk, said Subbarao.
"In today's world, where the Internet has opened many new avenues and people usually have smartphones on them at all times, Twitter provides rapid, real-time communication and can really assist during a specific crisis," he said.
Subbarao said the research shows that the awareness generated by Twitter contributed to the decreased number of injuries and fatalities caused by the tornado.
"This tool is something that can be used globally to reduce disaster risk," said Subbarao. "This is the tip of the iceberg, too, because there are many more applications for this service, from daily emergency medical services to major disasters."
Cooper, who spent weekends and school breaks working on the project with Subbarao and fellow student Yeager, agreed.
"The biggest thing about Twitter is that a user, whether it be an average user or someone working in disaster management, can use the service to amplify his or her voice," he said.
Since their initial publication, the articles have been widely shared on social media and have also been picked up by other publications and disaster management agencies, including the World Health Organization and the offices of Disaster Risk Reduction and Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs at the United Nations.
The articles are available to the public for free by clicking here.