How Twitter helps the feds map and gauge earthquakes

Twitter helps the U.S. Geological Survey disseminate information to its publics instantly and gather scientific data about earthquakes. And the USGS gets unbeatable publicity from it all.

You could call it the Twichter scale.

Or you might just call it TED, the Twitter Earthquake Detector, the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) newest tool for quickly measuring the intensity and scope of earthquakes as they happen.

“It sort of adds a whole other layer to USGS science and earthquake science,” says Scott Horvath, public affairs specialist and Web developer for the survey.

TED is just one way the USGS is using Twitter to provide information about earthquakes in the United States and all over the world.

And, Horvath says, it might be a good example of how other agencies—government and otherwise­­—can use tweets and geo-location data to provide snapshots of disasters or other significant events in real time.

“Everything nowadays has a big push and focus on location-based information,” Horvath says. “If the data’s there and the location information is there, who knows what it could be used for?”

The tweet science

TED launched on Twitter in June 2009 after USGS officials noticed a lot of tweets popping up around earthquakes they were measuring. Most described how the earthquakes felt, but others were even including photos and video.

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