Can Twitter prevent wildfires?
Smokey the Bear’s PSAs occasionally aired during Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid.
“Remember, only you can prevent forest fires,” Smokey would say, reminding us to be sure our camp fires were properly extinguished. The problem was that my family didn’t do much camping, so the message was kind of lost on me.
A few years later, my friends and I were traipsing through the neighborhood woods on a particularly dry Fall day. One friend brought a lighter. Back then it felt like every friend group had at least one kid who carried a lighter, cigarettes, firecrackers, a knife—a collection of items that made them feel tough or cool, or maybe even resourceful.
Our friend liked to burn stuff. During our short hike, he lit a few leaves with his lighter and, poof, we were surrounded in flames and smoke. We kicked and stomped the ground for ten minutes until all the embers were gone.
After the fire was out, my friends left. I stayed.
“Only you can prevent forest fires.” I didn’t say it out loud, but that slogan repeated in my head. I sat near the scorched earth for hours watching leaves fall around me like rain, hoping that some newly fallen foliage wouldn’t reignite the blaze.
It was dark before I got home. I stayed awake that night wondering if I should return the next day. But I awoke to no news of a forest fire, no fire trucks, no helicopters whirling overhead dropping buckets of water on my house.
As unsettling as it was for me, I can’t imagine the anxiety people in drier areas of the world feel each year, wondering if a wild fire will erupt near their homes. Like I was some 40 years ago, they’re at the mercy of Mother Nature and the occasional spark set by a human. This is because while hurricanes and monsoons have their seasons, wildfires have their season, too.
We’re in wildfire season right now.
To help prevent the spread of these fires, one company—Mayday.ai—is turning to Twitter.
“When major events happen, people turn to Twitter to share what they’ve witnessed, document what’s happening in real-time, and to get key information,” said Jim Moffitt, a partner engineer at Twitter.
“When it comes to wildfires, early detection can buy authorities time to warn impacted communities and get the right resources in the right place quickly.”
Mayday.ai uses tweets in combination with information from satellites, traffic cameras, and other data points to build their detection system. This system helps first responders deal with wildfires quickly and more efficiently.
Mayday.ai’s platform and app give first responders and civilians who live near these danger zones access to real-time information about wildfires. In fact, as Moffitt found, Mayday.ai is so successful in detecting fires, it’s being used as a template for other types of disasters.
To borrow Smokey’s phrase, “remember, only you and your tweets can prevent wild fires.” Okay, so that phrase isn’t entirely accurate; but neither was Smokey’s advice. Mayday.ai is a good example of prevention requiring more than us and our tweets.
Still it’s another wonderful example of how social media is being used for good, to help us better understand our world, and possibly prevent disasters.
Learn more about Mayday.ai at www.mayday.ai.
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Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is special assistant to the provost and professor of communication in the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes on a variety of topics including communication technologies, relationships, and sports (with an emphasis on fandom). His work has appeared in Mahoning Matters as well as The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers.