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Red Cross In Dallas Has One Eye On Storms, One Eye On High-Tech Version Of Twitter

All day, emergency crews have been tending to high water rescues, flooded streets and power outages.

The Red Cross is on standby and is using Twitter to help decide when to spring into action.

The Digital Operations Center at the Red Cross is Dallas is a social media paradise. Four 55-inch monitors light up the room, each one responsible for something very specific. There’s the “Heat Map” which matches tweets in real time with disaster related keywords.

“When a state gets to red, it means a tremendous number of people are talking about one topic in one state and Texas is red today," says Anita Foster with the Red Cross. "No question everyone’s conversations are around rain and flooding and Patricia.”

Credit Courtney Collins / KERA news
KERA news
On the Digital Operations Center Desk

That hurricane slamming Mexico is one of the reasons the Red Cross is on high alert.Foster says the operations center also pulls individual tweets, words trending in tweets and top photos.

“It’s actually pulling in the pictures people are taking from the ground. Signs down, street signs down, we’re starting to see traffic accidents, road closures," she says.

Red Cross staffers are in surveillance mode, but that could change quickly. And Twitter could help them make the call about whether it’s time to open a shelter or hand out supplies.

“So right now we’re seeing a lot of people talk about it’s raining or it’s not raining where I am," says Foster. "The streets are flooded. We get concerned when we start to see people tweeting about water’s in my house.”

Emergency crews in Navarro County are worried about that now. The National Weather Service reported a flash flood emergency there this afternoon, announcing I-45 south of Corsicana was closed because of fast rising water.

The Office of Emergency Management posted a video in the town of Powell of flooded front yards.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.