Everyone already knows what happened yesterday on the East Coast so I will not give many details. An earthquake, centered somewhere in Virginia, was felt all over the north-east coast of the US. The Capitol Building and the White House were evacuated in DC, people felt the tremor as far up as in Toronto and many people got quite scared in New York, especially the ones that work in a very tall building.

Related to that, this morning I was watching the “news” (if you can call the Good Morning NY shows a news show…) and one of the reporters explained something that was very interesting. His family lives in Virginia and his mom called him about the earthquake before it even hit New York. In a similar way, the tsunami of tweets and Facebook posts scattered across the East Coast way faster than the actual tremor.

A friend of mine posted an old XKCD comic that describes this interesting effect:

I have been thinking about two things:

  • Could we somehow use Twitter and other social media to alert citizens of upcoming disasters? Even better, could we use the combination (social network data + location data) to predict the trajectory of a disaster, its intensity gradient and other characteristics of the event to improve alert systems?
  • If there is ever a major disaster, what will people do? Run and then tweet? Tweet and then run? Tweet while running?

As a final comment I’d like to add that feeling an earthquake on a 25th floor of a tall New York building was very scary. It might have not been felt that much on the street level, but up there…