San Diego State’s geography professor Ming Tsou’s program maps tweets about ongoing emergencies such as wildfires and bad traffic snarls. Courtesy image

A program developed by San Diego State University is tracking Twitter posts from earthquake-ravaged Nepal to provide a glimpse at how people there are handling and responding to the tragedy.

The magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck on Saturday — Friday night in San Diego — near the capital of Kathmandu. The death toll has climbed past 5,000 and could end up much higher, according to authorities in the mountainous Asian country.

The GeoViewer program developed chiefly by SDSU data scientist Calvin Jung and geography professor Ming-Hsiang Tsou, with support from the National Science Foundation, monitors tweets in real-time and, based on GPS data embedded in those tweets, plots them onto a digital map.

Users can choose to look at images, text-based tweets, or both, allowing them to quickly see visuals for a given area or search for keywords.

By locating common keywords clumped together in the same geographic region, government authorities, aid organizations and emergency responders can locate places with a particular need. Authorities can also use Twitter users’ images to gauge damage to buildings and infrastructure, according to SDSU.

The school reported that Jung adapted GeoViewer for the Nepalese earthquake less than a day after it occurred.

He’s shared the platform with several international aid agencies. While they’ve introduced it to their workers, it’s too early to tell whether any of them will incorporate GeoViewer into their relief efforts, according to SDSU.

“The focus has been on Kathmandu, but with GeoViewer you can zoom in to different areas,” Jung told City News Service. “So you can see how people in different areas need different types of help.”

The GeoViewer can be programmed with different filters that can be layered onto maps. In San Diego, it might include traffic congestion or wildfire locations.

The school said Jung will also create relevant map filters for the Nepalese earthquake.

— City News Service

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