Twitter Earthquake Detector?

Following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, once again Twitter is a go to source for advisories, updates and harrowing first hand accounts.

Can Twitter detect earthquakes? Not really, but turns out scientists working for the U.S. Geological Survey think it – not official channels — may be the fastest way to find out about them, and get the word out.

In an exploratory effort, the USGS is funding a student “Twitter Earthquake Detector“ project developing a system that “gathers real-time, earthquake-related messages from the social networking site Twitter and applies place, time, and key word filtering to gather geo-located accounts of shaking.

This approach provides rapid first-impression narratives and, potentially, photos from people at the hazard’s location.” It might also allow for better detection in regions that are well populated but lack seismic detectors. Updates are provided under @USGTed Twitter account.

Twitter has been credited with toppling dictators, now can it save lives in natural disasters?

According to the USGS, social media is faster than any official means at getting the word out when disaster strikes. “People local to an event are able to publish information via these technologies within seconds of their occurrence. In contrast, depending on the location of the earthquake, scientific alerts can take between 2 to 20 minutes.”

In another example, a blogger has created a mashup showing realtime earthquake tweets happening in and around Tokyo, Japan.

By adopting and embracing these new technologies, the USGS thinks it can potentially augment its earthquake response and the delivery of hazard information.