Dr. Yang receives NSF grant for research on social media & disaster response


Dr. Seungwon Yang, an assistant professor in LSU’s School of Library and Information Science, is part of an interdisciplinary research team that has been awarded an $834,585 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant titled, Understanding Social and Geographical Disparities in Disaster Resilience Through the Use of Social Media, will examine whether social and geographical disparities exist during the four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

When Hurricane Katrina ravaged our coast in 2005, social media had yet to become the social phenomenon that it is today. By 2012, when Hurricane Sandy impacted the east coast of the United States, causing some the most hurricane damage in the country’s history, social media was an integral part of disaster response.

According to FEMA’s 2013 National Preparedness report, more than 20 million tweets were posted during Hurricane Sandy, even with limited cell phone service the storm caused.

This endeavor will take Twitter data pertaining to two hurricanes, Isaac and Sandy, and conduct an investigation of the tweets from before, during and after the storms. With a focus on mining big data, which is a relatively new concept, the team will pull real time human-response data from social media to provide new opportunities for studying disparities in disaster resilience. That data, coupled with analyzing online surveys, will give the team insight on how to address a set of core research questions: (1) Are there distinct geographical and social disparities in the use of social media in disaster resilience? (2) What are the sources and consequences of such disparities? (3) How do these disparities vary across the four phases of the disaster cycle? (4) How do these disparities affect resilience? (5) How can social media data be used to improve resilience?

Understanding the sources, patterns, and consequences of social and geographical disparities in disaster resilience is critical to building long-term resilient, healthy and sustainable communities.

The project will enhance the understanding of how to conduct efficient mining of social media data in order to produce useful and valid scientific information. Both social science and information science research will advance by developing and testing algorithms that can be used to sift through noisy and imperfect data from sources like Twitter.

Research methods developed in this project will be used to study future disasters, while the knowledge gained through the study will help to improve disaster recovery strategies to reduce disparities and create effective social media campaigns and emergency management outreach plans. These results will also help with aiding in efforts to promote resilience to disasters.

Dr. Nina Lam, an Abraham Distinguished Professor of Louisiana Environmental Studies in the LSU College of Coast and Environment, will head the project. Her team represents five colleges on LSU’s campus, with members from the Department of Sociology, the Division of Computer Science and Engineering, the Department of Environmental Science, and the School of Library and Information Science.

Dr. Yang’s areas of research expertise are information archiving, analysis and visualization, as well as application of data mining and natural language processing techniques to crisis situation and online communities.

“I believe that this project can be a lens to looking into details of how communities are differently affected by and recover from large-scale disasters (e.g., flooding in Baton Rouge), depending on their social/economical/geographical factors,” Dr. Yang said. “These insights may help us improve the disaster response and recovery plans, eventually enhancing the quality of life in our communities."

About SLIS

The LSU School of Library & Information Science prepares individuals for positions of responsibility in the field of library and information service and strives to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in the field.

Visit the School of Library & Information Science at slis.lsu.edu

About CHSE

The College of Human Sciences & Education (CHSE) is a nationally accredited division of Louisiana State University. The College is comprised of the School of Education, the School of Leadership and Human Resource Development, the School of Kinesiology, the School of Library and Information Science, the School of Social Work, and the University Laboratory School. These combined schools offer 8 undergraduate degree programs and 18 graduate programs, enrolling more than 1,900 undergraduate and 977 graduate students. The College is committed to achieving the highest standards in teaching, research, and service and is continually working to improve its programs.

Visit the College of Human Sciences & Education at chse.lsu.edu.