For Faster Earthquake Alerts, Check Twitter

US Geological Survey researchers say that by simply tracking the word "earthquake," they're able to pinpoint seismic activity much more quickly than with their own specialized equipment. However, because it's Twitter, the method is far from perfect.

What's the Latest Development?

At last week's annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America, US Geological Survey (USGS) National Earthquake Center director of operations Paul Earle described the effects of simply paying attention to appearances of the word "earthquake" on Twitter using a specially-designed software tool. With it, the agency was able to detect an average of 19 earthquakes a week over the last 10 months. Remarkably, the vast majority were confirmed within two minutes, which is considerably faster than the USGS' own seismometers.

What's the Big Idea?

This method of detection isn't perfect -- for example, a bare minimum of users provide a GPS location with their tweets -- but it "help[s] fill the data gap in regions with a sparse seismic network...[and] gives seismologists a head start in manually processing quakes that were widely felt, but might be slow to show up, or too small for the automated network to detect." The USGS now wants to see if tweets can help communicate information that's beneficial to first responders, such as the quake's intensity and the amount of damage caused.

Photo Credit: Annette Shaff /

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