finding and sharing disaster info on twitter (UPDATE)



UPDATE: due to twitter API changes, tweetgrid has stopped working – and there’s no word on how long it will be before it’s working again.

There are certainly other options for running searches using the search techniques discussed below, but they  don’t include easily shareable web-based multicolumn searches yet. After a discussion this morning on #smemchat, it seems as if we are all looking for solutions and work-arounds.

Kate Starbird  and her team are working on a possible solution (hopefully available mid to late fall)

Many of us are simply setting up multicolumn searches using tweetdeck and hootsuite. This doesn’t make things easily shareable, however, which is important for #SMEM and #VOST social media/disaster work.

Mary Jo Flynn now has an agency account for Geofeedia, and is testing it. Chris Tarantino also has access to geoffedia and is testing. I’ve used their trial, but as Geofeedia pointed out, the trial version is limited and doesn’t deliver all data. I’m looking forward to hearing from Mary Jo and Chris how they like it.

As Chris Tarantino pointed out, it’s pretty easy to open text and geosearches as well as text/geosearch combination searches in tweetdeck, and then move the most productive searches over to an advanced twitter search, which can be saved and shared one search at a time. Not ideal, but workable.

Humanity Road also shared this great “hashboard” page that they’ve added to their website – it’s great to have access to this, and I’m sure it will be helpful, especially during the early moments of many types of disasters, prior to disaster-specific hashtags popping up within each disaster.

Here’s a link to the entire discussion that we had regarding this on #smemchat this morning. Thanks to Mary Jo Flynn for her input, ideas and also for the chat  archiving!

I’ll definitely keep udpating here and posting as we find new/better solutions.


Original Post:

Here’s a step-by-step how-to narrative for rapidly finding useful info on twitter, and  how to easily save and share searches with others to assist in your search for timely, relevant, useful information.

Let’s say you’ve heard rumor that there’s a disaster happening somewhere, but you have very limited information. How do you quickly refine your twitter searches and find useful information? How do you quickly identify relevant hashtags?

1- Run several tweetgrid word searches in a multicolumn search environment:
1a- open
1b- choose “1×10 sidescrolling” (or your preferred layout for multi-column searches)
1c- start searching using simple word search combinations that are likely to bring relevant results, such as [location disaster-type] for example: [California earthquake]

During a disaster or event, these text searches will bring many results to quickly scroll through so that you can look for more relevant info with which to refine your search. When you find new and relevant information, create a new text search in new column to refine the search. For this example we’re trying to find specific location info that will help us to focus in on a specific area that may have been hard hit in a disaster.

So the above [California earthquake] search at the time of a significant quake in CA would result in tweets with additional info for refining searches. Specific location names will appear; cities, town names would appear in the search result stream, and eventually a hashtag or two will appear in the results as well.

   1d- Set up [earthquake location-name] and [earthquake #hashtag] searches in tweetgrid columns.


Next: use the locations you’ve found in these text searches to create geosearches. If you have the latitude/longitude coordinates for a specific place, twitter can be searched by location from .1km out to 2500km. Here’s how to find a latitude/longitude:

2- Open a web app such as and enter a specific address or city, state get the latitude/longitude.

3- Copy the lat/long and insert into a geosearch template.

It’s possible to run geosearches of gelocated tweets using the following formula for an area as small as .1km out to 2500km: [geocode:INSERTLAT/LONGHERE,??km]

   3a- I’ve created a sample tweetgrid multicolumn geosearch to get you started – set up using this template:
TWEETGRID 1×5 geosearch TEMPLATE minus RTs with searches at: .1km – 10km – 50km – 100-km 200km


   3b- Run the searches to see what the results look like.


   3c- Create your own custom searches using this search code:
[-RT geocode:___,10km] (insert the lat/long where the underlined blank space is with no spaces and don’t copy the “[ ]” brackets – they are just my way of showing you what things in a searchbox will look like)

Example: [-RT geocode:45.523452,-122.676207,10km]

Please note the use of “-RT” in the search: This helps to cut down on retweets

   3d- Try adding additional search words to filter for useful info such as:
closed – evacuation – shelter – etc…

   3e- Try running the above with a “question mark search” [earthquake willits ?] or [#eqCA ?] to look for people who are asking questions that may need help (note: searching the word “help” will most likely bring lots of results of people asking for others to “please help those affected by X disaster” – this happens a lot)

It’s likely that these searches will result in more specific place names, town, regions, and you can:

4- Set up additional text and geosearches based on these results to further refine the searches.

5- Watch for hashtags – these sometimes evolve during an incident, or new ones become active during an incident. (NOTE: running hashtag searches does not eliminate the need for regular keyword searches as many do not use hashtags or in times of disaster may not take the time to locate or begin to use hashtags until later in the disaster)

   5a- Create new text searches for [#hashtag evacuation] [#hashtag shelter] [#hashtag closed] etc…
It’s helpful to share out info on the most used hashtags – watch for local officials to encourage use of specific hashtags – support their message when appropriate by sharing info on new hashtags to other tags that are in use.

6- If you’re working with a group – share the searches that you’ve created so that others can help you.

   6a- In tweetgrid, after you have your search columns set up and running, move your cursor in your web browser window to the top white “Tweetgrid!” app menu area and click on “Share: [ Full Address ]”.


   6b- The full address/link for this search can now be copied out of your web browser address window at the top of your browser. Highlight it, copy, and paste in to an instant message, chat window, tweet, email or however you wish to share it with others who can help with your searches.


twitter search step-by-step numbered summary:
1- open – choose “1×10 sidescrolling”; run wordsearches [disastertype placename] to search for a location
2- Go to and enter the place name to get a lat/long
3- Create a tweetgrid multicolumn geosearch using this template:
TWEETGRID 1×5 geosearch TEMPLATE minus RTs with searches at: .1km – 10km – 50km – 100-km 200km:
4- Refine your searches based on new location info by repeating the above searches with new location names found from first search results
5- Watch for hashtags and share; create new text searches for [#hashtag evacuation] [#hashtag shelter] [#hashtag closed] etc…
6- save and share the most useful tweetgrid searches with others (click on “Share: [ Full Address ]” then copy URL from browser address window)

NOTE: practice, practice, practice! The more you practice using these tools, the more second-nature it will become. Try different column layouts, different searches on big events (other peoples’ disasters, or sporting events, conferences, etc…)

NOTE2: Save the geosearch template somewhere handy – bookmark an empty one or save in your notes – so that you can set up and operate quickly.


There are other ways to search twitter and other social media platforms – I talk about those over here (link to longer doc?)

Now that you have gotten to the point that you can find useful info – what do you do with it? How do you sort it and get it in front of the right person to deal with it? Sometimes there is simply too much data on too many platforms to manage alone, and a team is needed.  YOU MAY NEED A VOST (Virtual Operations Support Team)


if possible set up these twitter lists now for you and your community to turn to in disasters and emergencies for helpful info:
another very helpful thing to do is to make local twitter lists for your area – I suggest making two:
1 – local EMS and disaster-related accounts twitter list – this list should include all relevant emergency management, public safety, law enforcement, fire & rescue accounts, volunteer accounts such as any Red Cross, VOAD, CERT or ham radio club or ARES accounts, also dept. of transportation, power company, cable company and any relevant businesses that may be offering useful closure info such as banks, school districts, etc…
2 – local and regional news twitter list – this list should include all local radio, newspapers, newsblogs/sites, TV stations, etc…

I’d just like to credit and thank Gahlord Dewald (@Gahlord on twitter) for all of his excellent posts on twitter geocode searching, without which this post would not have been possible. Thanks Gahlord – and here are his posts – be sure and see these, especially if you are a hootsuite or tweetdeck user!

Twitter Location Search: A complete guide

Set Up GeoCode Searches on Hootsuite

Set Up GeoCode Searches on TweetDeck

Figuring out the GeoCode



Here’s a link to a googledoc called “#SMEM and #VOST Search” that has more search info including some web apps that allow you to search other social media platforms such as facebook, blogs, and more.

  1. Hi Scoot.
    I was programming this evening a little app : “EasyGeoTweets” to find these geotweets easily. It’s based on the leaflet library and OpenStreetMap Tiles. It will be better to use than
    You can use it here: The source code is open and free to use. Your article was my inspiration.
    Maybe later, a V2 in order to show locations of tweets on the map but a lot of other tools to make asap.
    See you soon.

    • Looks great Cedric! I just tried it – I like the map and the ability to move around easily within the map to find a lat/long – I tried using the keyword/hashtag feature but for some reason that resulted in no twitter search. If I run the lat/long search alone it opens up a twitter advanced search just fine.

      • yes I tried with a keyword only and not with an hashtag. This little bug that I didn’t see is fixed now. Thanks.

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