Use of big data could make emergency responses more efficient

Local authorities could save the economy millions of euro this winter by using big data — large pools of online data from social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

EMC Ireland’s country manager Gerry Murray said big data could pinpoint areas of adverse weather conditions for local authorities and emergency services.

During a cold snap in Jan 2010, the National Roads Authority spent €3m importing road salt from abroad because of a shortage, while insurers paid out.

According to Met Éireann, the first 10 days of Jan 2010 continued a spell of exceptionally cold weather that had begun the previous December.

It was the most extreme cold spell over Ireland since early 1963 and caused significant disruption.

Mr Murray said big data could be captured, stored, organised, and analysed to forecast more accurately and give local authorities, businesses, and emergency services the necessary information to prepare, locate problem areas, and avoid needless spending.

He said sensors on mobile devices could provide precise weather readings in real time and that dedicated computers could “crunch the numbers” and generate usable readings and averages, providing information accurate to a precise location, helping local authorities to plan for extreme weather.

“For example, real-time, GPS- tracked updates from social media like Facebook and Twitter could give road workers and emergency services detailed information with pinpoint accuracy,” he said.

Big data analytic tools could search for an analyse tweets with “snow”, “ice” or “obstruction” to highlight problem areas in need of salting and clearing, allowing local authorities to respond with resources more quickly, he said.

For first-responders, such as paramedics and the fire brigade, knowing which neighbourhoods are the worst affected would lalow them to prepare in advance and respond as efficiently as possible.

Mr Murray said a hospital or a fire station would know how many staff to have on standby and what supplies to have ready.

He said the technology was tried and tested — Google Flu Trends dredged relevant search terms to track the spread of the influenza virus in local areas.

EMC says the information technology tools are available to deal with exploding volumes of data.

“We are standing on the cusp of a new age based on analysing vast volumes of data,” said Mr Murray.

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