PODCAST: Did You Feel It? Social Media for Earthquake Science and Response

Dr. David Wald, USGS

Dr. David Wald is a Seismologist with the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) of the U. S. Geological Survey in Golden, CO and is on the Geophysics Faculty at the Colorado School of Mines. He developed “ShakeMap,” “Did You Feel it?” ShakeCast, PAGER, and the Earthquake Notification Service, described below. He led a roundtable discussion at the Wilson Center on citizen-based science for earthquake science and response on September 27, 2011. 

To view a short podcast with Dr. David Wald click here.

You just experienced a 5.8 earthquake on the East Coast.  You rush to your smart phone, log on to your Facebook or Twitter account, update your status or tweet “Whoa! What was that?!” or “Earthquake in DC?!”  …but no one responds to your post.  Do you begin to get the impression that nobody cares? Because everybody felt it, everybody is tweeting about it, and yours is the 200th tweet, and after the 200th tweet about the same earthquake, it seems no one cares to respond.

Fortunately, the Did You Feel It? (DYFI) online system cares!  It cares if you were asleep or awake when it happened, or if you were excited, frightened, or even if your windows rattled.  Dr. David Wald of the U.S. Geological Survey National Earthquake Information Center stopped by the Wilson Center on September 27, 2011 to explain how this program works.  The Earthquake Information Center provides global earthquake information to their wide client base, which includes federal agencies, media, and academics.  Their goal is to get the magnitude and location, whether domestically or internationally, of a seismic event by collecting data from different sources using certain tools.  These tools include:

  • The ShakeMaps system which shows estimates of the distribution of shaking from an earthquake anywhere in the world.  The colors on the map represent the level of intensity of the shake using seismic instruments supplemented by on-the-ground reports.  ShakeMaps is updated in near-real time and, as such, is always evolving to show the best assessment of the event.  Domestically, ShakeMaps is also used by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and others in damage assessment.
  • The ShakeCast system is a companion system to the ShakeMaps and uses ShakeMaps to determine the shaking level at critical facilities based on the facility’s location and its vulnerability to shaking.
  • The PAGER system uses ShakeMaps to determine the number of people who were exposed to any given shaking level anywhere in the world.  It was estimated that approximately 100 million people felt the most recent Virginia earthquake
  • The DYFI? online program consists of specific questions in the form of an assessment or survey.  These questions are quite deliberate and diagnostic in nature, and help determine the level of intensity the reporting individual was exposed to.  This interactive system also provides instant feedback.  For example, in response to a request to see assessments from other DYFI participants, the system can produce a granular map describing a broader view of the shaking intensity using the data submitted.
USGS Community Internet Intensity Map of Virginia Earthquake Aug 23, 2011

The DYFI program manages to strike that fine balance between social media and science in disaster management.  Although the questions in the assessment are a form of people-based science and are crafted to be diagnostic, they still manage to serve a social-interactive purpose.  They allow a participant to communicate what they felt physically and emotionally during an earthquake.  Therefore, although a question asking if the windows rattle is for the main purpose of determining if what was experienced was a sonic boom or an earthquake, it also gives the participant an opportunity to say, “Yes! As a matter of fact they did!”  This may provide a sense of release and satisfaction that their observation about the windows was acknowledged and is used for science and the public’s benefit.  After all, isn’t that what social media is all about.

So the next time you experience an earthquake, you can log on to your device of choice[1], head over to Did You Feel It? and respond “Yes, I Felt It… and I ducked and took cover!”

To view a short podcast with Dr. David Wald, USGS click here.

To download Dr. Wald’s power point slides click here.

Contributor Olubunmi Emenanjo, J.D.

Olubunmi Emenanjo is an attorney completing her Masters degree in Bioscience Regulatory Affairs at Johns Hopkins University.  She is currently serving as a scholar research assistant with the Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, D.C.  She is studying the impact of synthetic biology on biomedical product development from a regulatory perspective.


[1] Did You Feel It? apps for iPhone and Andriod phones will be available in the near future.

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