• Emergency service workers are using Twitter to rapidly map and respond to NSW's bushfire crisis. (AAP)
In the past emergency services have used triple-zero calls to respond to disasters, but now they're tapping the power of social media.
Source:
AAP
24 Oct 2013 - 12:10 PM  UPDATED 24 Oct 2013 - 8:42 PM

Firefighters are using Twitter to rapidly map and respond to NSW's bushfire crisis.

In the past, emergency services have relied heavily on triple-zero calls and radio communications for alerts about new disasters and that hasn't changed.

But thanks to breakthrough software designed by Australian scientists, the Rural Fire Service is monitoring eyewitness accounts on Twitter to map and respond quickly to the blazes that have torn through the Blue Mountains.

The software, called Emergency Situation Awareness (ESA), has been developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIRO) and works by sounding an alarm whenever a cluster of unusual words are tweeted.

So if you've tweeted about a new fire or emergency over the past week, chances are you've aided the emergency response.

"It looks at what we call anomalous behaviour," CSIRO scientist Alan Dormer told AAP.

"In the Blue Mountains you may get X number of tweets during a normal hour - but if you suddenly see a cluster of certain words like `fire', it triggers."

Over the past four days, there have been 30,000 tweets across Australia using the word `fire', 18,000 using `bushfire', 9000 using `emergencies' and 2000 using `evacuations', according to CSIRO data.

More than 1000 fire-related tweets have been sent from the Blue Mountains over the same period.

In the last four days there have been 30,000 tweets from the Blue Mountains using the word `fire', 18,000 using `bushfire', 9000 using `emergencies' and 2000 using `evacuations', according to CSIRO data.

The ESA software can pinpoint the precise location of each of those tweets and tell the difference between false alarms and real emergencies.

The RFS has been using that information to not only map the NSW fires but as part of its frontline response - potentially saving lives and property.

The technology has been developed over the past five years and although the NSW bushfires are not the first time ESA has been used, it is one of biggest disasters it's been used in.

During trials last year, ESA helped detect a grass fire near Cloncurry Hospital, in outback Queensland, before any triple zero calls were received.

The software is monitoring tweets all over Australia in a bid to provide early warnings about other types of emergencies, including tsunamis, earthquakes and cyclones.

It may be extended to monitor other publicly-viewable social media platforms in future.

The CSIRO's ultimate goal is to merge ESA with another of its new programs - ERIC (Emergency Response Intelligence Capability) which helps authorities predict the longer-term impact of a disaster, through to things like what financial assistance victims may require.

"I think this is the start of a new era in the way we manage emergency situations by collating all the information that's flying around and putting it in one place," Mr Dormer added.