Social Media Gives Early Insight into Cyclone Impacts

In a response coordinated online through the use of digital tools and teams, volunteers are monitoring social media. Information is being aggregated and reported to those who can provide aid, it’s giving them early insight into the cyclone impacts

WASHINGTONMarch 22, 2015PRLog — A team of digital humanitarians is listening to social media streams to save lives in Vanuatu. Tropical Cyclone Pam has impacted Vanuatu and other islands in the Pacific creating serious damage including lost homes, road damage, power and communication outages.

In a response coordinated online through the use of digital tools and teams, volunteers are monitoring social media. “Information is being aggregated and reported to those who can provide aid, it’s giving them early insight into the cyclone impacts,” says Humanity Road volunteer Claudia Espinosa, who is leading the project.

“We provide aid in the form of information at the onset of disasters,” says Christine Thompson, President of Humanity Road, a digital disaster response team headquartered in Boydton, Virginia. “Our volunteers are trained to use techniques to monitor live social media streams as well as using cutting edge tools to collect and analyze data. These techniques and tools help us locate medical and health related information that adds value to disaster response organizations and first responders.” Social Media information is useful for the public but also for aid agencies responding. Organizations like Nethope, UNOCHA, Americares, GISCorps and many others are using this data for planning response, creating maps, and staging resources.

Women and their children await their turn at a hospital in Kyodo.

For the past eight days Humanity Road volunteers have been monitoring for urgent needs and publishing daily reports with situational awareness about the impacts. Social media data also contains key information about who is responding. This is also a report published by the volunteers, its called our “Social Media 3W” report. A 3W report lists who is responding with what and where, it helps provide an early view of which aid responders are staging their response. Chris Thompson goes on to say, “Finding the signal in the noise is our area of expertise, we’re using a tool called ‘Scanigo’ that helps us find and classify key messages and urgent needs in social media. The information is being collected and shared online to help the public and their families find answers as well as helping to create maps.”

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (UNOCHA) has activated the Digital Humanitarian Network and as a member, Humanity Road offered the assistance of our volunteers. “We are working with partner GISCorps and providing social media information specific to health, hospitals and medical in support of the creation of an early indications map,” said Claudia Espinosa.” Information on needs and impacts helps improve the flow of aid to clinics, hospitals and the public.” GISCorps team is incorporating this data into maps.

Nethope is one of the organizations tapping Humanity Road’s information for key response planning. “The data that Humanity Road volunteers are collecting accelerates the process for confirming agencies deploying to the disaster. It provides an early foundation for our collective work with UNOCHA’s 3W report,” says Joel Myhre with Nethope.

To help support response efforts, on Friday, March 20, Humanity Road activated a mutual aid request to the Montgomery County Maryland CERT team as well as tapping partner technology organization PeaceGeeks for an initiative that HR is calling “HelpVanuatu”. It’s a 72 hour initiative to use surge resources from two teams to assist with monitoring social media. PeaceGeeks volunteer Sebastien Lanteigne spent over nine years in Vanuatu and is assisting us in monitoring in Bislama language. Montgomery County Maryland CERT team leader Steve Peterson and his team are experienced in health and medical and have been screening messages and reports for critical health and medical needs from the public.

“Disasters are local, and we help our neighbors, even if that neighbor is 6,000 miles away,” says Chris Thompson. “No matter where you are we are here to help when disaster strikes, and Montgomery County Maryland CERT and this partnership are helping their neighbor – in Vanuatu.”

About Humanity Road

We are a top rated nonprofit charity providing support to the public and aid agencies during sudden onset disaster. We monitor social media to save lives and close the black hole of communications during natural disaster. For more information about Humanity Road visit

About Montgomery County CERT – The Montgomery County, MD Community Emergency Response Team is a team of county residents trained in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. The Montgomery County CERT has over 500+ members and its program is managed by the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.

About Scanigo – Scanigo is a social media analytics toolkit developed by Progeny Systems in collaboration with Humanity Road to quickly filter social media into actionable information in support of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) events, designed to meet respective analysis workflow processes and timelines.

About Peace Geeks – PeaceGeeks is a non-profit organization that leverages skilled volunteers and ICT to empower at-risk communities in developing and conflict-affected areas. With 500+ applicants, we support locally-based initiative through web and mobile development, crisis mapping, GIS, social media and communications strategy, and more to support grassroots non-profits, refugees and communities displaced by conflict and natural disasters.