Translating Twitter for campus disasters

Bucket Brigade is available for free on Android mobile devices.

Twitter just got even more concise: Students, faculty members, and campus administrators can tweet more efficiently with an application that provides a shortcut for asking for #Help or telling loved ones #Imok.

Bucket Brigade Keyboard, a free app for Android devices developed by University of Colorado (CU) doctoral student Daniel Schaefer, uses an alternative keyboard to translate Twitter chatter into syntax used during fires, earthquakes, floods, or campus shootings.

Creating a common language for emergencies, Schaefer said, could improve social media communication during the tense first hours of a natural disaster or security incident. Students, in other words, won’t be yelling into the void of tweets and random hashtags.

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“Twitter is becoming the place to go during a disaster,” said Schaefer, whose CU research has focused on communications and crowdsourcing. “It doesn’t mean the other mediums are not utilized, but the ability to be concise and to communicate quickly is really effective, especially when crazy stuff is happening.”

Schaefer’s app – named for the early firefighters who doused flames by passing along buckets of water – has a dozen message choices, such as “location,” “resource,” “help,” “I’m ok,” and “contact.”

The specially designed keyboard can be used by tapping the red bucket icon on an Android smart phone. Brigade Bucket users can write their tweets the way they normally would, and the application will translate the messages to standard signals used by first responders.