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Montana Floods: How Social Media Supports Emergency Management

Summary:

In June 2022, the state of Montana suffered severe flooding that caused excessive environmental and infrastructure damage. Open-source content like social media can support faster, more informed response measures for public safety risks like flooding. The Echosec Systems Platform uncovered dozens of social media posts that provided a wealth of information about the severity and location of damage throughout the state. 

Bottom Line:

Natural disasters will happen more frequently and intensely as climate change escalates. OSINT tools can help response teams drive more effective decision-making to keep people and assets safe.

 


Full Article:

Over Memorial Day weekend in 2022, a storm covered mountains in south-central Montana in a fresh layer of snow. A couple of weeks later, heavy rainfall and abnormally high temperatures, combined with the snowpack, inundated Yellowstone National Park and surrounding communities with unprecedented flooding.

 

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The Montana floods wash out a roadway in Yellowstone National Park—image courtesy of The Washington Post.

The disaster destroyed the area’s transportation infrastructure, forced the evacuation of over 10,000 park-goers, and damaged hundreds of homes. It also dramatically reshaped the environment as overflowing rivers carved new paths. Damage to the landscape as well as man-made infrastructure could take years and cost over $1B to address—not to mention the economic impact on local communities, which rely on tourism.

Such disasters will happen more often as global temperatures increase due to climate change. A 2021 report on the Greater Yellowstone Area concluded that the area will see more rainfall and rapid snowmelt due to warmer temperatures in the coming years, leading to hazardous flash flooding.

As natural disasters become more frequent, organizations like FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) must make timely, informed decisions to keep people safe. Here’s how open-source intelligence (OSINT), which is derived from public sources like social media, can help emergency management teams address flooding and other natural disasters.

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How OSINT Supports Emergency Response

In the last few years, government organizations have realized the value of open-source content for national security. Open-source intelligence (OSINT) derives insights from publicly available information, which now primarily comes from online sources. This includes social media content and other open-source data across the surface, deep, and dark web.

As internet users document real-life events and spread information, these sources are valuable for identifying risks faster and getting a more nuanced picture of unfolding events. Social media content can also be easy to geolocate. This supports more timely, targeted, and informed decisions in response to threats. 

For natural disaster response, this could mean finding risk indicators earlier, understanding the extent of damage in real-time, and evaluating what response measures are required and where. A faster and more accurate response can help emergency management teams minimize the loss of human life and damage to infrastructure.

Benefits of OSINT for Emergency Response:

  • Improves speed-to-information.
  • Can geographically map activities in real-time.
  • Supports more targeted, proactive, and accurate decision-making.
  • Illuminates related fallouts like disaster misinformation.

OSINT and the 2022 Montana Floods

Let’s take a look at the 2022 Montana floods through the lens of social media. On June 13th, users began posting on social networks like Reddit about road closures and flooding in and around Montana communities like Gardiner:

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By the 14th, dozens of bystanders were posting images and videos of the Montana floods on social media:

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Many of these posts are geotagged or mention specific locations—such as towns or road junctions. This would enable emergency response teams to precisely locate images and videos, assess the damage, and allocate resources where they are needed most. Early warning indicators, like the Reddit posts captured, can also alert responders faster to natural disasters, especially in more remote areas.

Timely Response Requires OSINT Technologies

Challenge


Gathering, geolocating, and analyzing open-source content across a range of networks for disaster response.

Solution


An OSINT search tool that makes it easy to find and geolocate social media content relevant to a specific emergency scenario.

Outcome


Emergency management teams can evaluate the situation and make faster, more informed response decisions to protect people and assets.

If the goal is to respond faster to risks, navigating networks like social media manually for information is not the answer. There’s an overwhelming amount of open-source data available on the web, but only a small fraction of this is valuable for disaster assessment and response. Uncovering this information quickly requires OSINT software, which enables users to quickly find relevant information across a variety of sources. Enter: the Echosec Systems Platform. 

OSINT tools vary widely in their data coverage and functionality, but Echosec Systems solutions are designed for emergency detection and response. How? 

To start, the Platform covers an expanse of data sources necessary for emergency response applications. These include mainstream networks where bystanders are more likely to document on-the-ground events, as well as covert sites where users may discuss risks in more detail or spread misinformation.

The Platform also ingests and displays data in real-time and allows users to create highly specific persistent searches. For emergency management teams, this means accessing the most current information without needing to manually navigate or refresh web pages. Lastly, the Platform supports more targeted emergency response by mapping open-source data geographically

 

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A location search for Gardiner, Montana using the Echosec Systems Platform locates dozens of posts from the area during the week of the flood.

This works for posts that have been geotagged by an author, like the one above—but also for posts that aren’t geotagged but still mention specific locations. This feature uses location-inference technology powered by machine learning.

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The Platform identifies and maps a social media post mentioning a location relevant to the user’s search parameters (Search Location: Gardiner, Montana).

OSINT supports emergency response strategies, often providing valuable insights faster than other information sources. This will become crucial for effective disaster response and recovery as climate change causes events like the 2022 Montana floods to increase in frequency and scale. Citizens rely on emergency management organizations to minimize damage and keep people safe—and advanced OSINT solutions like the Echosec Systems Platform can help.

If you provide emergency management for natural disasters and other public safety threats, connect with us to learn more about how OSINT tools can help you keep people safer.

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