Improving Emergency Response – Thanks to Twitter

emergency response

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A new technology searches the Twitter firehose for emergency situations throughout New York City, and channels news alerts to first responders. The system introduced by Dataminr is designed to filter out fake announcements, jokesters, pranksters and other non-events, so first responders aren’t wasting their time chasing rumors of non-events.

Company CEO, Ted Bailey said “Dataminr has built the first technology that can identify breaking information in social media. Many other companies detect trends or analytics. We don’t. We detect that first nugget of information when it first gets published. Ultimately when we [issue an] alert, it is a headline, an alarm bell to first responders to look here and investigate via other sources. A social media signal is never going to be definitive. It is just the most performative early trip wire for breaking information…”.

According to, Twitter sends many signals about events happening throughout the city and Dataminr can provide the emergency services with additional layers of information about the nature of the situation.

Ben Krakauer, Assistant Commissioner for Strategy and Program Development at NYC Emergency Management, explained this is not really about replacing 911 so much as augmenting it. “We want you to call 911. The answer is not to send a tweet, but anecdotally during the largest emergencies — crane collapses, building explosions, large fires — at the same time we have information coming in from 911 calls, we’re also seeing information come in from the social media stream,” Krakauer explained.

While the project began in part as a public service, it has grown into a $3 million contract over three years. Bailey said it also offers his company a way to expand the news alert platform to other first responder organizations across the country and presumably the world.

What about false reports? Bailey asserts that his company’s algorithms are tuned to pick up when a report is real and when it’s not because the signals that come in during an actual emergency including photos, provide a clear indication when something is happening.

Dataminr got in some trouble last year when it reportedly began pitching a more robust product for monitoring by law enforcement personnel. There was a huge social media backlash and Twitter eventually limited law enforcement access. Furthermore, Twitter is an investor in Dataminr, although Bailey said that the company was never providing surveillance information for law enforcement as had been asserted.

“We still provide a news alert product for law enforcement for first response, what never happened was a surveillance product to any law enforcement. It never happened,” Bailey said.

Dataminr platform also offers news alerts for news organizations, financial services, and private corporations.