Feature: Building Relationships on Trust in Disasters

Trust in Evacuation Warnings

The role of trust is important in disaster management and social media. Joint research over the past twelve months between The University of Padua (Italy), Trinity College Dublin and Stillwater Communications (Ireland) has uncovered some important details about trust and its role in disaster communications.

When people are asked to evacuate from an area they are put in a position where they have to trust the authority of emergency managers who tell them that it is safer to leave their homes than to stay. While this might seem like an easy decision, the events of Hurricane Katrina highlighted a major issue when many people mistrusted the warnings that were given and chose to stay in their homes where they felt safer. This was, in part, due to exaggerated stories of looting and mistrust in government, where people felt it would be safer to stay in a familiar place than to relocate temporarily.

Trust in Who Delivers the Message

Graph of levels of trust from Ipsos Mori

Ipsos Mori’s survey on trust shows a low level of political trust compared to an increasing level of trust in experts. Click image for source

One recent poll (above) by Ipsos Mori (a UK research company that specialise in media and advertising) highlights the low level of trust in politicians and journalists when compared to experts. In evacuation situations, politicians often deliver messages from emergency managers, including warning messages and evacuation orders. Read more

Disaster lexicon now available on the project Terminology Wiki

The Slándáil project recently accomplished one of it’s fundamental milestones – the completion of the disaster lexicon in the three languages of the project (English, Italian and German). The project team have created a dedicated wiki (available at http://slandailterminology.pbworks.com/) displaying all the terms relating to the concept fields of emergency management, natural hazards and people in emergencies, which were extracted from the corpora of texts collected in the previous stage of the project.


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Prof. Khurshid Ahmad speaking at the ISCRAM conference 2015

Slándáil at ISCRAM Conference 2015

Cover image credit: @vitalanfranchi

The Slándáil project presented as part of the 12th International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM), on 27 May 2015 in Kristiansand, Norway. The project was represented by Professor Khurshid Ahmad, project coordinator.

Professor Ahmad spoke about three unique aspects of Slandail Project: First, to collect and analyse texts and images, available on the social media, to maximise the amount of information during a disaster both to disaster managers and the public at large – current emergency management systems rely on analysing texts only; Second, to increase the level of trust between the managers and the public during a disaster by articulating the available information in a manner that shows empathy as well as leadership. And, third, to practically involve the Slandail end-users, software developers, and ethics and legal experts, in the specification and design of the Slandail system; end users usually form a loose association with projects like Slandail.

His talk was part of a section with speakers from other EU projects including SeCinCoRe, SECTOR, Pop-Alert and COBRACORE. Read more

Feature: The Intrusion Index for Digital Privacy

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin have been working on a system to improve technology that harvests data from social media by analysing how it may intrude upon individual privacy. The system, called an Intrusion Index, detects potentially private information in digital data so that this information can be deleted if necessary.

During a natural disaster there is a large volume of information shared on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Some of this information contains private data that could be used to identify individuals, although it is difficult to process all of this of data. Slándáil researchers have been looking at ways to better protect sensitive information, including encryption methods and anonymisation methods, and part of this includes a novel system that works on Named Entity Recognition.

A diagram showing how the intrusion index highlights named entities and then removes them when necessary.

By recognising named entities in the text, the system can then automatically remove these and log where they appear to avoid privacy issues.


Work on the Intrusion Index began in 2014 for Slándáil, and progress has been ongoing in testing and development. The index searches online text for named entities including place-names and people’s names, and creates a log when this data is detected in social media text. The system is now being tested on social media data. Read more

Slándáil Showcased at Business Continuity Ireland Forum Meeting

On Tuesday, May 12th 2015 the Business Continuity Institute of Ireland held their Forum Meeting in the Printing House, Trinity College Dublin, in an event that was co-hosted by Slándáil.

Damian Jackson presenting research work from the ethical and factual provenance of data

Dr. Damian Jackson presenting research work from the ethical and factual provenance of data

Members at TCD, Stillwater and An Garda Síochána were invited to present some of the findings of the project from the first twelve months to an audience containing emergency managers, academic institutions and business continuity departments of Irish businesses. The day featured an open dialogue between audience members and the project. Feedback was positive toward the research that has been carried out to date, and the direction in which the project is moving.

The presentations focussed on research conducted so far, including discussions on Trust in Communications, State of Exception Theory and Geolocative systems including the INSPIRE database. Other talks at the meeting were given by members of the Business Continuity Institute, who discussed the importance of business continuity for Irish businesses.

Presentations from Slándáil were delivered by Cilian Fennell from Stillwater and Prof. Khurshid Ahmad from TCD. John Roche from An Garda Síochána chaired a presentation and discussion session with Prof. Ahmad and Damian Jackson from the Irish School of Ecumenics, TCD. Further presentations were delivered by Denis Woods and David West from the Irish Business Continuity Institute.

Presentations from the day are available below:

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Feature: Novel Way to Study Images by Ulster University

University of Ulster: A Novel Spiral Addressing Scheme for Rectangular Images

As part of the research for Slándáil, Ulster University have been working on a novel method for analysing images based on a system that they have developed. The goal of this is to make image analysis from social media more efficient, taking into account the large volume of images that are shared during a natural disaster (for example, Instagram reported 1.3 million pictures posted during Hurricane Sandy).


Communication via accurate, complete and real-time information sharing is key to prepare, respond and recover in disaster management. Sharing visual content not only increases the credibility of the information, but also encourages social media user engagement.

For most existing web search platforms, such as Bing, Google, and Yahoo, search is based on context information, i.e., tags, time or location. Text-based search is fast and convenient, but the search results can be mismatched, less relevant, or duplicated due to web noise. Therefore, incorporating content-based analysis, such as image analytics, can improve the search quality. Read more

Group photograph of all Slándáil attendees at the plenary meeting in Padua, 17 April 2015

Second Plenary Meeting of Slándáil, Padua, April 17th

All Slándáil partners met at the second plenary meeting in the University of Padua on Friday, April 17th 2015. The plenary meeting was an opportunity for partners to meet face-to-face and discuss the current progress of the Slándáil project. This followed on from the previous plenary meeting in Belfast.

The timetable included individual partner presentations from all twelve partners, plus an introduction from Protezione Civile de Veneto, who joined the project as a collaborator in January 2015, having assisted voluntarily in End User research in 2014. Each partner outlined how they felt progress had gone on the project, what they are currently doing, and where they hoped to bring the project in future. The feedback was positive after a particularly busy six-month period that saw five documents delivered and two milestones reached. Read more

Prototype 0 Demonstration

On April 17th, 2015, following the second Slándáil plenary meeting, a demonstration of the coupled systems that will form the core of the Slándáil project was given to the emergency management partners in the project.

The two systems that form the prototype are Topic Analyst, a text analysis system that compiles text from online sources created by German technology company CID, and SIGE, an alarm and emergency system that helps emergency managers send out messages and target key areas during a natural disaster created by Italian company DataPiano. Both systems were loosely coupled and demonstrated to end users using dummy data of an emergency to show how the systems may operate together later in the project.

One of the interface screens of Topic Analyst

The Topic Analyst system analytical results on search term ’emergency’

Topic Analyst is capable of taking in text from internet sources and splitting these up into categories. During a time of natural disaster, this can be used to pull in public social media posts. When an occurrence of key terms such as location or a particular type of emergency is highlighted within the text, Topic Analyst automatically sends a warning to a monitoring station where an emergency manager can view its readings. If the emergency manager decides that the data warrants an alarm, he/she can activate SIGE, which allows fast contact with various emergency management resources, and shows maps and information on the region that may be affected.

The next step in the project will be to take the academic partner research on flood terms and use these as a filtration system to improve the outputs from Topic Analyst. Further to this, the integration of guidelines on harvesting data highlight the need to log activity and also incorporate an intrusion index system to help protect the identity of named individuals that may appear in public social media posts. Some of this will be addressed in the next prototype, due for demonstration and testing in November 2015.

Image of Dublin City University main entrance

Slándáil at Emergency Management Research Symposium

Project Coordinator Professor Khurshid Ahmad will be presenting Slándáil at Dublin City University, Friday May 1 2015. Slándáil will be presented alongside other emergency management research that is being undertaken at DCU and National University of Ireland, Maynooth. The presentation will introduce the work done by the team at Slándáil to date, and will introduce some of the core concepts including the ethical framework and linguistic research.

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The symposium will take place at DCU Business School from 8.00-10.30 on Friday, May 1. The programme can be downloaded here.

Talking Speech and Image: Meeting in Italy

On April 16th 2015 a meeting was organised in Padua by Slándáil partners to explore the relationship between speech and image analytics. The project has found that emergency communications can be expedited by good video presentation or sometimes hampered by by bad presentation. Ongoing work on Speech Analytics by the University of Padua (led by Maria Grazia Busa) is analysing aspects such as pitch change and gestural deixis (i.e. words and phrases that cannot be fully understood without additional contextual information).

Ulster University (represented by Bryan Scotney) took part in the meeting with a focus on identifying named entities and movements made by tracked entities in image analysis. Automatic gestural deixis, involving person, temporal and place, should help to improve multimedia communications during emergencies.

16-04-2015_mgbusa_img1 16-04-2015_mgbusa_img2

Above: A comparison between gestural communication used as an example in the meeting slides. Slides are available below.

This collaboration between the two tasks has important benefits for Multi-modal aggregation at Trinity College Dublin (led by Khurshid Ahmad).

A discussion took place between Maria Grazia Busà, Bryan Scotney, Khurshid Ahmad, Maria Teresa Musacchio, Raffaella Panizzon, Sara Brugnerotto. The Lead Beneficiaries concluded that image analytics will deal with gestures as a target area and a provision has to be made of training videos in this area.

A further workshop is planned in Padova as a part of a meeting organised by University of Padova in May 2015.

Slides from this meeting - click to download/open

Slides from this meeting – click to download/open