Computer scientists at Trinity College Dublin have developed a new social media monitoring system to help emergency services respond to disasters.

The prototype Slándáil system gathers information from social networks and feeds it into emergency management software used by police, fire fighters, paramedics and other emergency services.

It was built over the past three years by an international group of researchers, including some at the School of Computer Science and Statistics at TCD led by Professor Khurshid Ahmad.

It draws on a range of text, image and video content posted by people caught up in accidents or disasters on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Instagram.

The software then uses text and image analytics and machine learning to make sense of the data, before feeding it into the control room software used by disaster management services.

Among the data generated is the location, severity and evolution of the event.

The system has already been tested by An Garda Síochána, the PSNI and other agencies in a range of European states, including the UK, Germany and Italy.

The Slándáil Emergency Management System is capable of monitoring cross-border disasters, as it has been built with research from linguists and translators.

Three languages - English, German and Italian - are supported.

The project was funded by the European Union's Framework Programme 7 under its Security Research strand. 

"We have produced a prototype solution that allows these teams to drown out the unhelpful noise and instead systematically capture useful information spread via social media to assist disaster management as efficiently as possible," said Professor Khurshid.

"Whether they are responding to a flash flood or a dangerous man-made disturbance, the rapid provision of critical information from ‘eyes on the ground’ should help save lives."

The developers say the system balances the needs of emergency managers and first responders with the rights of citizens to privacy and data protection.

The system will now be further developed into an event management system by a TCD spin-out company while it is hoped live tests with Irish emergency management teams will take place by the end of this year.