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CU Boulder Scientists Using Social Media To Help Disaster Rescue Efforts

By Jeff Todd

BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) - As rescue efforts are still underway for Hurricane Florence, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder are gathering data from social media to analyze the rescue effort.

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(credit: CBS)

"We are always searching for better ways in which we can communicate uncertainty and probability and risk to the public," said Dr. Leysia Palen with the CMCI Department of Information Science. "We have to translate that to a local interpretation about what to do, how to evacuate, how to make yourself safe."

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CBS4's Jeff Todd interviews Dr. Leysia Palen. (credit: CBS)

Palen has been leading research for more than 10 years, and the technology has changed a lot in that time. Now they're looking to social media posts and geospatial information like pictures to build clearer representation of what the response is like from the ground.

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(credit: CBS)

"We are still working on the massive amounts of data we have from the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season," said Palen.

One thing her team noticed is how some forecasting imagery can confuse the public it's supposed to inform.

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"My hope is that we can get to the point where we help with additional translation between that scientific forecasting and then how to interpret it on the ground," said Palen.

Her team has worked firsthand on the 2013 floods in Colorado, to hurricanes, and earthquakes halfway around the world.

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(credit: CBS)

The long-term goal of the research is to alter how government and nonprofits can respond to disasters.

"Better and better decisions about something that is highly unpredictable. It also includes advising emergency managers and others who are in the humanitarian response mission to help understand what the impacts might be," Palen said.

Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he's been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.

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