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MIT is using social media to map flooding from Hurricane Irma in real time

MIT is using social media to map flooding from Hurricane Irma in real time


The project is being tested in Florida’s Broward County

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Image: MIT Urban Risk Lab

As Hurricane Irma bears down on the Florida peninsula this weekend, MIT’s Urban Risk Lab has launched, an open-source platform that will track flooding in southern Florida. The project is being piloted to provide updates in real time to citizens and emergency planners, and allows for people to submit reports via Twitter, Facebook, or Telegram.

The system uses a chatbot that users can message directly through any of the three social media sites, which sends users a link that will allow them to upload their location, the depth of the water, a description, and a picture, which is then displayed on a map. Users can then share their report on social media.

The goal is to provide up-to-date information on changing flood conditions from a large population of people. Presently, this test will only cover Florida’s Broward County, which is just north of Miami, and contains Fort Lauderdale. Broward County officials and MIT researchers both warned that the map is to gather information, and that individuals in need of assistance should contact 911.

The project is part of a collaboration between the county and the lab. MIT tested out the system in Indonesia during a flood earlier this year, which saw 300,000 users make reports via an integration with Uber’s App, and is working to launch a similar pilot in India later this fall. The team also hopes to roll the map out to other US counties and additional social media platforms “in the near future,” and is looking to use it as a platform to push out alerts from emergency officials. With Hurricane Irma set to make landfall in Florida today, it should provide the lab with a test to improve the platform for future disasters.