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Early Flood Detection for Rapid Humanitarian Response: Harnessing Near Real-Time Satellite and Twitter Signals

Institute for Environmental Studies, VU University Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1085, Amsterdam 1084HC, The Netherlands
Floodtags, The Hague 2516 BE, The Netherlands
European Commission Joint Research Centre, Ispra 21027, Italy
Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht 3512 JE, The Netherlands
Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, The Hague 2521 CV, The Netherlands
International Research Institute for Climate and Society, Palisades, NY 10964, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Christoph Aubrecht and Wolfgang Kainz
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2015, 4(4), 2246-2266;
Received: 29 June 2015 / Revised: 30 September 2015 / Accepted: 10 October 2015 / Published: 23 October 2015
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Geoinformation for Disaster Risk Management)
PDF [1331 KB, uploaded 23 October 2015]


Humanitarian organizations have a crucial role in response and relief efforts after floods. The effectiveness of disaster response is contingent on accurate and timely information regarding the location, timing and impacts of the event. Here we show how two near-real-time data sources, satellite observations of water coverage and flood-related social media activity from Twitter, can be used to support rapid disaster response, using case-studies in the Philippines and Pakistan. For these countries we analyze information from disaster response organizations, the Global Flood Detection System (GFDS) satellite flood signal, and flood-related Twitter activity analysis. The results demonstrate that these sources of near-real-time information can be used to gain a quicker understanding of the location, the timing, as well as the causes and impacts of floods. In terms of location, we produce daily impact maps based on both satellite information and social media, which can dynamically and rapidly outline the affected area during a disaster. In terms of timing, the results show that GFDS and/or Twitter signals flagging ongoing or upcoming flooding are regularly available one to several days before the event was reported to humanitarian organizations. In terms of event understanding, we show that both GFDS and social media can be used to detect and understand unexpected or controversial flood events, for example due to the sudden opening of hydropower dams or the breaching of flood protection. The performance of the GFDS and Twitter data for early detection and location mapping is mixed, depending on specific hydrological circumstances (GFDS) and social media penetration (Twitter). Further research is needed to improve the interpretation of the GFDS signal in different situations, and to improve the pre-processing of social media data for operational use. View Full-Text
Keywords: climate risk; social media; flood risk; forecasting; GFDS: early detection; Twitter; humanitarian response climate risk; social media; flood risk; forecasting; GFDS: early detection; Twitter; humanitarian response

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Jongman, B.; Wagemaker, J.; Romero, B.R.; De Perez, E.C. Early Flood Detection for Rapid Humanitarian Response: Harnessing Near Real-Time Satellite and Twitter Signals. ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2015, 4, 2246-2266.

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