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01.12.2020 | Original Paper | Ausgabe 1/2020 Open Access

# Ranking and grouping social media requests for emergency services using serviceability model

Zeitschrift:
Social Network Analysis and Mining > Ausgabe 1/2020
Autoren:
Hemant Purohit, Carlos Castillo, Rahul Pandey
Wichtige Hinweise

## Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

## 1 Introduction

Recent years have shown the significant integration of social media into our daily life activities. This trend indicates the potential role of social media to timely connect the public to all kinds of organizations, including governments and for-profits. In for-profit companies, recent years have demonstrated the value of extending their customer relationship services to social media (Kietzmann et al. 2011), where they often provide timely answers to social media queries from existing and potential customers. Similarly, the research focused on public sector has shown that the public expects a timely response to queries on social media addressed to governments and nonprofits (American Red Cross 2012; Hughes et al. 2014; Reuter and Spielhofer 2017).
From the perspective of emergency services, however, there are substantial challenges for meeting these public expectations of timely response during emergencies. There are vast amounts of messages posted in social media by the public during emergencies (Yadav and Rahman 2016; Castillo 2016), leading to information overload in emergency services (Yin et al. 2012; Imran et al. 2015; Kibanov et al. 2017; Interdonato et al. 2019), given their limited human resources. Messages are also extremely varied in their potential value for operational response, ranging from actionable requests or concrete offers of help (Purohit et al. 2013; He et al. 2017; Ranganath et al. 2017) to damage reports (Madichetty and Sridevi 2019) and unsubstantiated rumors (Starbird et al. 2014). Furthermore, messages often have syntactic and semantic-level redundancies in the content as well. Thus, quickly prioritizing and grouping redundant messages with help-seeking intent that require a timely response has become a critical need for agencies in the emergency operation centers (EOCs) (US Homeland Security 2014).
Table 1
Example messages with different serviceability characteristics addressed to Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management (@fbcoem) in the USA during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. (Messages rephrased for anonymity)

Message
Characteristics
M1
@fbcoem I am 9 ft above current water levels, why am I told to evacuate Grand Lakes now? Please advise
Serviceable
M2
@fbcoem If there has been no rain since yesterday, why is water not draining?
Serviceable, lacks details
M3
@fbcoem Thank God you are working on this. Let us chat when things settle down
Not serviceable
Table  1 shows some example messages addressed to Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management in the USA. M1 is a prototypical serviceable message, containing a concrete request (confirmation of evacuation order). M2 is still serviceable, it has a request for information; however, there is ambiguity (where is the water not draining?) that makes it less serviceable. Finally, M3 is not a serviceable message for operational response, but a message expressing gratitude. Therefore, we address the problem of filtering, prioritizing, and grouping serviceable social media requests for emergency services semantically and at scale.
Our contribution. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first comprehensive study to formally define and extensively analyze the application of a generic serviceability model ( Social-EOC) for social media requests, in order to identify, prioritize, and group actionable requests to respond for emergency services. This paper builds upon our previous work (Purohit et al. 2018), where we proposed the Social-EOC model and presented experiments to rank social media requests using a Learning-to-Rank framework.
In contrast to our prior work, we investigate redundancy at the syntactic and semantic levels of requests that may potentially waste efforts of emergency responders and propose a semantic grouping approach to meaningfully exploit redundancy. We extend our earlier work by proposing a re-ranking method for the clusters of serviceable requests based on their semantic grouping using fine- and coarse-granularity clustering. This method provides more efficient interaction with public requests at scale and allows a timely response. Furthermore, we explore the role of a ‘sociability’ feature (c.f. details in Sect.  4.4) capturing social network characteristics of the requesting user in the ranking of serviceable requests. We investigate if the user’s credibility manifested through social connectedness could contribute toward higher ranking of serviceable requests ( c.f. analysis of sociability feature on ranking performance in Sect.  7.1).
We introduce the serviceability model in Sect.  3 together with a qualitative and quantitative description of serviceability characteristics of user requests. A learning-to-rank system based on the proposed model is described in Sect.  4, using inferences of the serviceability characteristics. We present the cluster-aware re-ranking methodology in Sect.  5. This system classifies and ranks serviceable requests while systematically exploiting content redundancy to organize requests by semantic grouping, for ultimately reducing the cognitive load on EOC personnel in processing public requests at large scale.
Finally, we demonstrate the validity of the ranking and grouping methodologies using the Social-EOC model in Sects.  6 and  7, by experimenting with real-world datasets from six crisis events during the past six years. Our conclusions as well as lessons for future research appear in Sect.  8. The application of this research can ultimately help reduce the cognitive load on emergency service personnel in processing public requests on social media at large scale, and similarly, it can inform the research on improving social media services for customer care of various businesses as well.

## 2 Related work

This section describes closely related work on the topic of filtering and ranking social media data for emergency management (for a survey, see Imran et al. 2015; Castillo 2016), primarily focusing on the research done to determine what is serviceable (or even relevant and actionable) for emergency services. Additionally, we summarize the related literature on methods to group ranked results of web-based retrieval systems.

### 2.1 Social media during emergencies

“Big Crisis Data” from social media has such a high volume, variety, and velocity, that it can overwhelm response services (Castillo 2016). Crisis informatics (Palen and Anderson 2016) has investigated the use of social media for emergency services. Quantitative approaches have focused on studying public behavior in specific emergencies while addressing problems of data collection and filtering, classification, summarization as well as visualization (Imran et al. 2015). Prior research has identified information overload as a key challenge and a barrier for the efficient use of social media communication by emergency services (Hiltz et al. 2014; Castillo 2016). Information overload originates from a variety of factors including the large scale, unstructured, and noisy nature of social media content. Furthermore, the characteristics of relevant social media requests that must be prioritized are not well understood.

### 2.2 Services in emergency management

In the emergency management domain, Public Information Officers (PIOs) play the role of serving information to the public or sourcing relevant information from public sources for the response agencies or an EOC, by leveraging various information communication technologies including social media (Hughes and Palen 2012). PIOs are provided guidelines for communication with the public (FEMA 2017), and have the responsibility to communicate critical information and respond promptly to requests. Over the last few years, PIOs have increasingly used social media to communicate effectively with the public. Reports and surveys of emergency services (US Homeland Security 2014, 2016; Reuter and Spielhofer 2017) recognize social media as a valuable information channel for improving their operational response coordination; however, they also recognize the necessity to effectively filter, prioritize, and organize information from this channel.

### 2.3 Mining intent of requesting help

The literature provides some guidance on modeling requesting behavior or information seeking intent across different domains (Mai 2016), including Q&A forum (Vasilescu et al. 2014), email communication (Yang et al. 2017), and social media platforms (Ferrario et al. 2012; Sachdeva and Kumaraguru 2017; Purohit et al. 2013). In online fora, researchers have found request behavior in varied contexts such as urgency, informational intent, and social support. However, prior research on information seeking behavior is generic for all types of users and often not targeted toward seeking answers from a specific agency, organization, or group of organizations, as we focus in this study. In email communications (Yang et al. 2017), researchers explored the characteristics of ranking messages for replying and created predictive models for prioritization. However, the length of emails provides a greater context to express the request behavior, which does not apply to typically shorter social media messages.
The most relevant line of work for our analysis is request behavior on social media, which has been defined by researchers as ranging from explicit requests for organizational users (Sachdeva and Kumaraguru 2017) to implicit requests for seeking donations and resources (Purohit et al. 2013; Varga et al. 2013) and other actions (Zade et al. 2018; Ranganath et al. 2017) during disasters. In particular for explicit requests to agencies, Sachdeva et al. (Sachdeva and Kumaraguru 2017) defined requests to which police agencies should respond, evaluate, or take action as serviceable requests, by analyzing the messages on a Facebook page of a police department. Likewise, Ferrario et al. (Ferrario et al. 2012) analyzed the #bbcqt hashtag used for BBC Question Time (a current affairs discussion program broadcast on BBC One in the UK) to find actionable tweets. References (Purohit et al. 2013; Nazer et al. 2016; He et al. 2017) proposed methods to identify implicit request messages for seeking or offering help during disaster relief, however, not specifically targeted to emergency services. Ranganath et al. (Ranganath et al. 2017) created a method to identify users who can provide timely and relevant responses to actionable questions posted on social media, but not specific factors for organizational agency users. Recently Zade et al. (Zade et al. 2018) presented a survey-based study with practitioners on defining actionability of social media messages during disaster events. Although relevant to our concept of serviceability, the actionability of content is considered generically and thus, it is not specific to requesting help and seeking response by the emergency services. To complement the prior research on social media for request behavior, we focus on creating a generalizable model for serviceability characteristics of requests targeted to organizational emergency services.

### 2.4 Grouping ranked results

Prior research in Information Retrieval has explored various ways to organize search ranking results and enable users to better interact with information and to reduce the cognitive effort of scanning through a long list (Wang and Zhai 2007; Osiński and Weiss 2005). $$Carrot^2$$ 1 is an example of a retrieval system for web search that groups web results under different topical categories (Osiński and Weiss 2005). Recent works (Wasilewski and Hurley 2016; Cobos et al. 2014) have continued exploring semantic grouping of ranked items for the different ways of incorporating diversity in ranking. However, to the best of our knowledge previous work has not investigated the grouping and ranking of short, informal language text of social media messages, especially in a time-sensitive scenario like disaster events.

## 3 Social-EOC: serviceability model

In this section, we describe a qualitative model of serviceability, followed by a quantitative model.
Table 2
Summary of datasets for tweets contained in the conversations, the sampled tweets for annotation, and the distribution of expert labels for serviceable requests. “Targets” refer to our list of accounts of government and nonprofit emergency-related organizations. Notice that for the first three events we have less than 100 labeled data points, while for the next three events we have several hundred labels per event
Event (start-end month/day)
Conversational tweets
Sampled tweets (containing targets)
Serviceable
Not serviceable
Hurricane Sandy 2012 (10/28-11/06)
1153
60
24 (40%)
36 (60%)
1513
52
25 (48%)
27 (52%)
Louisiana Floods 2016 (08/14-09/29)
1369
56
19 (34%)
37 (66%)
Alberta Floods 2013 (06/21-07/05)
2727
814
229 (28%)
585 (72%)
Nepal Earthquake 2015 (04/25-05/11)
2222
240
43 (18%)
197 (82%)
Hurricane Harvey 2017 (08/29-09/20)
12,742
1534
306 (20%)
1228 (80%)

### 3.1 Qualitative serviceability model

We consider a general class of emergency service requests, following official guidelines from the US FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
FEMA ( 2017), which include intended actions such as a request for resources (e.g., emergency medical assistance for an injured person) as well as information (e.g., a request for a phone number to get information on missing people). The key characteristic of a serviceable request message is that it requests a resource that can be provided, or asks a question that can be answered. For instance, we do not consider messages whose sole purpose is to congratulate/praise or complaint as serviceable; in our framework, a serviceable message must contain an explicit request for resources or a concrete question.
The serviceability of a social media message is also determined by whether it is correctly addressed to an organization that can provide the resource or information. Most social media platforms include features for sending publicly or privately a message addressed to a specific user. Thus, a citizen seeking an action or answer from an organization can address the request to that organization’s account.
We note that each organization or agency usually has its own protocols to determine if and how a request should be answered. However, the knowledge of such protocols is acquired by the service personnel through training guidelines, and may remain in the form of tacit knowledge instead of structured knowledge that could be used to automate responses.
Finally, serviceability not only refers to the topicality of the request and to the fact that it must be addressed correctly, but also to whether it contains required details, such as time, place, or context. In summary, we propose the following definition of a request on social media with the serviceability characteristics.
Definition 1
( Serviceable request) A serviceable request in social media is a message that: (i) requests a resource that can be provided or asks a question that can be answered, (ii) addresses a person or organization that can provide the resource/answer, and (iii) provides sufficient details for the resource/answer to be provided.

### 3.2 Quantitative serviceability model

Our definition  1 describes an ideal serviceable message, but serviceability is a matter of degree. To quantify this, we associate a score to each of the three types of serviceability characteristics for a given message m, for instance by using a 5-points Likert Scale (Likert 1932):
Two scores:
• a score ( E( m)) for the characteristic of being an Explicit Request, i.e., ideally a message that explicitly asks for a resource or service, e.g., message M1 in Table  1.
• a score ( A( m)) for the characteristic of being an Answerable Question, i.e., ideally a request message that explicitly asks a question that can be answered, e.g., messages M1 and M2 in Table  1.
A score ( C( m)) for the characteristic of being Correctly Addressed, i.e., ideally a message sent to (addressed or mentioning) the person or organization who could have the resource, or could provide the service, an alarm, or could answer the question, e.g., messages M1, M2, and M3 in Table  1.
Sufficiently detailed
A score ( D( m)) for the characteristic of providing Sufficiently Detailed context, i.e., ideally a message specifying enough contextual information such as time (when), location (where), quantity (how much), sub-type of resource (which), to make the request or question unambiguous, e.g., message M1 in Table  1.
Our quantitative serviceability model defines a message m as a function of these characteristics f( E( m),  A( m),  C( m),  D( m)). In this study, we automatically learn this scoring function instead of manually providing it, by estimating a relevance function learned via a Learning-to-Rank (Liu 2009) algorithm. We describe its implementation to rank messages next.

## 4 Ranking requests using Social-EOC serviceability model

The proposed system summarized in Fig.  1, implementing the Social-EOC model, depends primarily on four steps:
(A)
collecting conversation streams,

(B)
rating serviceability characteristics,

(C)
creating gold standard of serviceable requests, and

(D)
learning to classify and rank serviceable requests.

We present details of each of these steps in the following.

### 4.1 Collecting conversation streams

We first collected data from Twitter for six disaster events from the last 6 years, using the keyword-based crawling approach. We collected tweets during hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Louisiana floods in 2016 using the CitizenHelper system (Karuna et al. 2017) and for prior events, we re-used datasets available from previous works (Sheth et al. 2014; Imran et al. 2016). Following the recommendation of collecting “contextual streams” (Palen 2014), we further extended each event collection with messages that belonged to conversation chain (a Reply message thread on Twitter), where a conversation chain contained at least one message from an event dataset. To collect such conversation chain messages, we “scrapped” web pages of conversations using tweet id in each of our event datasets (this allows to recover more public messages than using Twitter’s API, which does not provide conversation chains). Specifically, the conversation chain for tweet with id TWEETID authored by a user with handle USER is available at http://​twitter.​com/​USER/​status/​TWEETID. Table  2 shows a summary of the characteristics of our dataset.

### 4.2 Rating serviceability characteristics

We asked crowdsourcing annotators for rating the individual serviceability characteristics of a message, as we describe in this section. We also requested domain practitioners for the ground truth annotation of the overall serviceability of a message (described in the next section.)
For rating individual serviceability characteristics, we provided instructions and examples to the crowdsourcing annotators (specifically, university student volunteers) based on the model described in Sect.  3. Given a message, three annotators associated a numerical rating between 1 and 5 to each serviceability characteristic. We also solicited the rating on an additional attribute of the message to indicate non-serviceable aspects such as complaints, gratitude, congratulations, and advertisements because these are not a priority for operational response. For example, through this message “ @account1 wow that photo made me tear up! Just amazing what u do! #yycflood”, a user is only trying to praise and express gratitude toward the officials. It is not asking for any operational resource or requesting any information. We provided the following annotation task description:
 Question What are the characteristics of the information in the following message? Instruction Please choose the appropriate rating between 1 and 5, with 5 being the highest value. Message {content of message} – Explicit request for a resource or service: $$1 \dots 5$$ – Answerable question that could be responded: $$1 \dots 5$$ – Correctly addressed to an organization or person capable of servicing or providing resources: $$1 \dots 5$$ – Sufficiently detailed with contextual information for time, location, and incident: $$1 \dots 5$$ – Other such as complaint, gratitude, congratulatory praise, sarcasm, and advertisement: $$1 \dots 5$$ Examples Multiple examples with reasoning for the possible ratings are provided, e.g., “ @account when you say appropriate footwear, does that mean good walking shoes or rubber boots? Prepared to walk through mud?” It is requesting information with a specific intent to clarify details regarding a prior announced message of the agency (@account). Thus, it receives the highest ratings of 5 with respect to being answerable, correctly addressed, and providing sufficient details.
We also indicated that for serviceability, the requested resource or service action should be external to the social media platform, i.e., it excludes actions that are done only within the platform itself, such as “RT me,” “follow me” or “read this” or “check out.” An example of such a message is “ @account No matter where in the world your followers live, u can donate from here: _url_ Help #Nepal! Pls RT!
For the annotation task on the conversational dataset of an event, we selected a biased set of messages using the following two equal-sized samples, in order to increase the recall of potential serviceable requests. The first sample selects all the messages that were directly addressed or targeted to official accounts (i.e., that start with ‘ @account’) and that were posted in a conversation chain before an official reply was posted. The second sample randomly selects messages from the remaining event dataset after excluding the first sample and the messages authored by official accounts. We collected the set of official accounts of relevant response organizations for an event through the official reports, including those from FEMA and news sources. For example, @account in the examples of Table  1 is the Twitter user account of the emergency management unit of a county government responding to hurricane Harvey. (The target official accounts of each event are provided in our data release.)
After execution of the event-specific annotation task by three annotators per message, we computed the average ratings of characteristics per message. Table  3 shows examples of messages with average ratings.
Table 3
Example messages with the ratings given by annotators, considering the serviceability characteristics of messages. (Message text paraphrased for anonymity)
Message
Explicit request
Sufficiently detailed
M4: @account1 plz, governor, post a phone # for specific info in our local areas
4.33
4.33
3.33
3.67
M5: @account2 is thr parking at McMahon for volunteer?
4.00
5.00
5.00
5.00
M6: @account3 how can I help
1.30
4.33
4.33
1.00
M7: @account4 Plz pray for these families
1.66
1.00
1.00
1.00
M8: @account5 been working in #LAFlood @account6 shelter, we actively monitor Social Media for feedback
1.00
1.00
2.00
2.00

### 4.3 Creating gold standard of serviceable requests

To validate our model for serviceability, we required a gold standard set of serviceable requests. The set was designed with the help of domain experts by labeling the annotated message set from the previous section. For this task, we asked domain experts to label if a request message would qualify as serviceable or not serviceable, according to their experience. We also provided them an optional field for entering comments on their choice of label. Our domain experts are three active professionals in the emergency management domain located in the USA, Canada, and Nepal, who have had roles in the public communications in a response agency. Specifically, the US-based expert labeled messages from Harvey, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Sandy events, the expert based in Canada labeled the Alberta event, and the expert based in Nepal labeled the Nepal earthquake event.
Table  2 summarizes the resultant label distribution from the three domain experts. The comments they provided during their label annotation process show some insights.
First, experts in general considered that serviceable messages were a subclass of the messages they would respond to during a disaster; in other words, that they would not answer only to requests for actions or information, but sometimes, also to other classes of messages, for example M8 in Table  3.
Second, a disagreement between the experts was observed in relation to messages that only express gratitude (such as M3 in Table  1). One of the three experts considered such messages as serviceable, with the rationale that replying to gratitude messages could help strengthen trust within a community. In contrast, the other two experts considered gratitude messages as not serviceable, as they did not consider them a priority for operational response like the other actionable messages. We sided with the majority opinion and resolved to keep the gratitude messages under the not serviceable category.
Third, experts identified that in some cases a message should be answered to provide reassurance or restate facts. This was considered a good strategy to counter rumors, in particular, highly alarming or easily falsifiable ones.
Overall, we found a correlation between the gold standard annotations of serviceability by experts and the average ratings by non-expert crowdsourcing workers for the proposed serviceability characteristics, as shown in Fig.  2.

### 4.4 Learning to classify and rank serviceable requests

For filtering and prioritizing serviceable requests, we propose a supervised learning method for automatic classification and ranking. In automatic classification, the objective is to classify a message as either serviceable or not serviceable. In automatic ranking, the objective is to order a list of messages according to how serviceable they are. The Learning-to-Rank methodology (Liu 2009) is suitable for jointly meeting these objectives. This method could use any kind of relevance levels of serviceability for training purpose. In our experiments, we have considered only binary levels, but we remark the method is general. Figure  1 depicts how learning-to-rank fits within this process, as we explain next.
Formally, we consider that each event $$i = 1, 2, \ldots , m$$ determines a query $$q^i$$, and $$D^i = \{ d^i_{1}, d^i_{2}, \dots , d^i_{n\_i} \}$$ are all the messages relevant to that event, which need to be ranked. Each message is associated to a label in $$Y = \{ y_1, y_2, \ldots , y_\ell \}$$ representing its level of serviceability. (A total order between the graded levels exist.) The training set corresponds to tuples $$\left\langle q^i, D^i, Y^i \right\rangle$$ containing queries, documents for each query, and sets of labels for each document, with $$(Y^i)_{j}$$ indicating the label for document $$d^i_{j}$$.
In this context, the goal of a learning-to-rank method is to learn a ranking model that associates to each query $$q^i$$ a permutation of the documents in $$D^i$$ that matches as much as possible the training labels, in the sense that higher graded labels in Y are associated to documents appearing near the top of the ranking (being more serviceable). In particular, we consider learning-to-rank models characterized by functions $$f_i: D^i \times D^i \rightarrow \{ -1, +1 \}$$ that associate to each pair of documents $$(u,v) \in D^i$$ a score $$-1$$ if u should be ranked above v for $$q^i$$ and $$+1$$ otherwise. Specifically:
\begin{aligned} f_i(u,v) = \left\{ \begin{array}{lr} -1, &{} (Y^i)_u> (Y^i)_v \\ 1, &{} (Y^i)_v > (Y^i)_u \end{array} \right\} \end{aligned}
(1)
To solve this problem, we use the SVM-Rank algorithm (Joachims 2006).
Feature extraction Query-document pairs $$(q^i, d^i_{j})$$ are represented by feature vectors, which include the following:
• Generic features: counts of the number of words, hashtags, user mentions, and URLs in a tweet.
• Text features: tf-idf for a bag-of-words, after performing standard text-preprocessing on a request message (removing non-ASCII characters, tokenization, removing stopwords, removing URLs) and lastly, replacing number, retweet indicator ( RT @USER), and mention indicator ( @USER) with tokens _num_, _rt_, _mention_.
• Social features: A measure to capture the degree of sociability or connectedness of a user in the social network who posts a request message. We hypothesize that the users with higher social connectedness are less likely to tweet non-serviceable request messages to emergency services, given the potential impact on their credibility. Social connectedness has been shown to associate with the credible perception of users, as studied in the prior research (Westerman et al. 2012; Riedl et al. 2013). Thus, we consider its exploration in our study, whether it could contribute toward higher ranking of serviceable requests sourced from users with potentially high credibility. In this study, we define a very simple measure of the connectedness of a user in the network based on both in-degree (number of friends) and out-degree (number of followers) metadata available with the Twitter user profile. It is calculated as follows:
\begin{aligned} Sociability = \log {(1 + \frac{1+ friends\_count}{1 + followers\_count})} \end{aligned}
(2)
• Serviceability features: we consider two sources of features for serviceability characteristics.
• manual labels: numerical scores between 1 and 5 for the average rating of each serviceable characteristic (explicit, answerable, etc.) provided by crowdsourcing workers in the annotation task.
• inferred labels: binary scores generated by an automatic classifier for each characteristic (explicit, answerable, etc.). The automatic classifier was created using logistic regression, with features that are pre-trained word2vec representations of the messages (embedding size 300) taken from Google Word2Vec toolkit, which is trained on continuous bag-of-words architecture(Mikolov et al. 2013). Training includes a held-out portion of messages for the classes of 0 and 1, corresponding to the manual labels $$\{1, 2\}$$ and $$\{3, 4, 5\}$$, respectively.

## 5 Re-ranking requests by semantic grouping

The existence of redundancy at both syntactic (near duplicity) and semantic (near topicality) levels among the ranked requests, translate into inefficiencies for emergency servicers, who have to browse through multiple messages that communicate either the same or similar requests. Therefore, we propose to cluster the results of serviceability ranking of individual requests, creating semantic groupings and re-ranking individual requests by clusters as described next.

### 5.1 Grouping types

We create two types of clusters of the individual ranked requests:
• Fine-granularity clusters This type of clustering aims to group together near-duplicates of request messages for a sub-event, so that an emergency servicer can choose to respond to the desired set of similar event-related requests simultaneously. Such grouping organically clusters syntactically similar messages in a bottom-up approach. For example, social media requests related to a specific charity that is accepting donations during a hurricane would have similar messaging content and can be grouped together.
• Coarse-granularity clusters This type of clustering aims to group request messages by their topical functionality as described by the topical categories in a structured domain ontology. Such domain ontology provides a top-down approach to organize and structure information in the existing information management systems in a domain. Thus, it provides a seamless, efficient way to cluster and browse the topically similar ranked requests for an emergency servicer, for example, the social media requests related to transportation topic category. Multiple ontologies (e.g., HXL Keßler and Hendrix 2015, MOAC Limbu et al. 2012) have been proposed for the emergency management domain to support disaster information management systems such as SoKNOS (Babitski et al. 2011). However, they tend to be too fine-grained for our purpose of grouping requests. Instead, we demonstrate the proof-of-concept for the content browsing based on semantic grouping of ranked requests using the DBpedia ontology (Auer et al. 2007), which can be mapped to a well-known taxonomy used by practitioners, as explained in the next section.

### 5.2 Feature representation and clustering

The fine-granularity clustering method represents each request message using the bag-of-words model after preprocessing text of requests. We use TF-IDF weighing scheme for a word feature and compute cosine distance between two word vectors of request messages for the clustering process (Baeza-Yates et al. 2011). Our preprocessing replaces URLs, numbers, and user mentions by generic tokens, and removes stopwords using a dictionary plus the top 3% frequent words in the vocabulary. We used hierarchical clustering with no predefined criterion on the desired number of clusters.
We perform the coarse-granularity clustering using a distributed semantic representation of words as vectors (a word embedding), specifically, the pre-trained embeddings of Wikipedia concepts and entities (e.g., ConVec Sherkat and Milios 2017.) We compute the cosine distance-based similarity to match the embedding representations of a request message (averaging over message tokens’ embeddings) and the concept of the relevant top-level category from the DBpedia ontology as shown in Table  4. Thus, this approach can facilitate a top-down faceted browsing of requests under various ontological sub-categories. We determine a request item’s membership to a concept-category-based cluster by the highest matched concept category. Relevant concept categories such as Medicine or MeanOfTransportation are determined based on the framework of well-known Incident Command System (ICS) (FEMA 2017) used by emergency management practitioners. We consider the set of requests under the same concept category as a cluster, which can have sub-clusters.
The advantage of the resulting clustered messages using such hierarchical approach is that we can further navigate the top-level concept cluster for sub-categories in the hierarchy of the predefined domain ontology, or the dendogram of the fine-granularity clusters. The flexibility for faceted navigation is useful for emergency responders with different roles for response (e.g., officers responding to transportation queries and within that, road vs. rail transport).
Table 4
Illustration of ontological categories from DBpedia, used for the semantic grouping under the coarse-granularity clustering type
DBpedia class
Description
Medicine
Medicine
Healthcare related requests, with sub-categories
Food
Food
Basic logistics related queries
MeanOfTransportation
Mode of transport
Requests on road, rail or air infrastructure
Population
Population
Affected people related queries
PublicService
Public service
Requests related to functions of services

### 5.3 Re-ranking

For each of the clustering approaches, we retrieve clusters that have different sizes and that involve messages with different relevance scores from the individual ranking method described in the previous section. Our aim is to rank the clusters, where the cluster importance is measured using the relevance rank of individual request messages contained in the cluster.
The importance function denoted by $$score\_rank(c_k)$$ for a cluster $$c_k$$ is computed by following Borda Count (Yang and Guo 2016), which is a preference aggregation method where scores are given to each candidate cluster in reverse proportion to their ranking. Thus, the higher-ranked candidates receive more points and we sort candidate clusters by $$score\_rank(c_k)$$ values, defined as:
\begin{aligned} {{score}}\_{{rank}}(c_k) = {{MAX}}\_{{RANK}} - {{rank}}(c_k) \end{aligned}
(3)
where $$c_k$$ refers to kth cluster with individual request members $$d^i_{j}$$,
$$MAX\_RANK$$ denotes the maximum rank a cluster could achieve (i.e., the total number of clusters), and $$rank(c_k)$$ function provides the representative position of the cluster $$c_k$$ among the candidate clusters. This is estimated by ordering the best relevance scored member (representative) of each of the candidate clusters (i.e., the member $$d^i_{j}$$ with the highest relevance score in the individual serviceability ranking among the request members of $$c_k$$).

## 6 Experimental setup and evaluation

For a robust validation of the proposed serviceability model of request messages, we compare the following classification and ranking schemes for individual requests. In all cases, generic features are computed and text is preprocessed as described in Sect.  4.4.
• [ T] : Text + generic features (baseline) This method uses a standard bag-of-words (BoW) representation of the text features, along with the generic features.
• [ T +S] : Text + generic features + social This method uses features from baseline scheme T plus social features.
• [ T+I] : T + inferred labels This method uses features from T plus serviceability characteristic labels generated by an automatic classifier trained on a held-out portion of messages from each event.
• [ T+I +S] : T + inferred labels + social This method uses features from T+I scheme plus social features.
• [ T + I_all] : T + inferred from all-events model This method uses features from T plus serviceability characteristic labels generated by a classifier trained on a held-out portion of messages from all 6 events.
• [ T + I_all +S] : T + inferred from all-events model + social This method is similar to the preceding scheme, plus social features.
• [ T + I_cross] : T + inferred from cross-event model This method is similar to T + I_all but only 5 events are used for training the automatic classifier of serviceability characteristic labels. (The held-out portion of messages for the event being considered in each case is not included.)
• [ T + I_cross +S] : T + inferred from cross-event model + social This method is similar to the preceding scheme plus social features.
• [ T_cross + I_cross] : T cross-events + inferred from cross-event model This method computes the model for T and for inferred serviceability characteristics using 5 events (excluding the event being considered).
• [ T_cross + I_cross +S] : T cross-events + inferred from cross-event model + social This method uses social features in addition the preceding scheme.
• [ T+M] : T + manual labels (hand-labeled). This method uses features from T plus serviceability characteristic labels provided by crowdsourcing annotators. It represents a “best-case” scenario in which each message already has been annotated manually along each serviceability characteristic, which would not realistic in a real-world situation with a large-volume dataset.
Evaluation metrics. To compare the different methods we use a popular measure from Information Retrieval: the normalized Discounted Cumulative Gain ( nDCG) (Liu 2009), which effectively compares two rankings by weighing more differences in the top positions than differences further down. Specifically, for each event/query:
\begin{aligned} nDCG(k) = G^{-1}_{\mathrm{max},i}(k) \sum _{j:\pi _{i}(j)\le k} \frac{2^{y_{i, j}} - 1}{\log _{2} (1 + \pi _{i}(j))} \end{aligned}
(4)
where
• $$\pi _{i}(j)$$ : Position of the document $$d^i_{j}$$ in ranking list $$\pi _{i}$$
• $$G^{-1}_{\mathrm{max},i}(k)$$ : Normalizing factor at position k
• $$y_{i,j}$$ : label of document $$d^i_{j}$$ in ranking list $$\pi _{i}$$
We analyzed nDCG for the top-5 and top-10 items, for the rankings obtained across each fold of the fivefold cross-validation setting, for each event.
Re-ranking implementation For the re-ranking approach based on semantic grouping of requests, we use the nDCG metric for assessing the quality of the ranking of clusters. Naturally, in this case the relevance is computed at the cluster level as describe earlier. We consider the cluster representative member’s relevance score as the ground truth for evaluation. Given the better performance across majority of cases, we chose the output of T + I_cross + S classification and ranking model scheme for the input to the re-ranking method. We have taken the top-200 ranked messages by relevance for our two clustering approaches. For implementing fine-granularity clustering, we used Scipy’s Hierarchical Clustering algorithm with no predefined cluster size and taking the similarity threshold of 0.7 for all events except the smaller dataset of Louisiana (chose 0.55, in order to aggregate in greater than one cluster, for any meaningful analysis). We added a constraint to the cluster size for containing minimum 1 item, in case of highly unrelated request messages. Furthermore, for coarse-granularity clustering, we used the publicly available vector embeddings of Wikipedia Concepts and entities, called ConVec (Sherkat and Milios 2017) ( https://​github.​com/​ehsansherkat/​ConVec).

## 7 Results and discussion

In this section, we first present the results from the individual request ranking schemes, comparing their performance with respect to the diverse features of the serviceability model. We then present the results of the re-ranking for the semantically grouped requests.
Table 5
Comparison of nDCG@5 and nDCG@10 (expressed as percentages) using fivefold cross-validation for each event. ( *Small dataset with no. of labeled instances $$< 100$$)
Event
Classification schemes
nDCG@5 (%)
nDCG@10 (%)
Oklahoma*
T (baseline)
49
74
T+S
50
75
T+I
53
77
T+I+S
59
83
T+I_all
46
72
T+I_all+S
48
72
T+I_cross
42
71
T+I_cross+S
58
82
T_cross+I_cross
46
72
T_cross+I_cross+S
40
70
T+M (hand-labeled)
61
85
Louisiana*
T (baseline)
94
96
T+S
87
95
T+I
89
96
T+I+S
89
95
T+I_all
89
96
T+I_all+S
89
95
T+I_cross
96
99
T+I_cross+S
92
98
T_cross+I_cross
77
90
T_cross+I_cross+S
83
94
T+M (hand-labeled)
93
98
Sandy*
T (baseline)
50
67
T+S
50
68
T+I
57
75
T+I+S
57
75
T+I_all
57
75
T+I_all+S
57
75
T+I_cross
71
87
T+I_cross+S
67
85
T_cross+I_cross
56
79
T_cross+I_cross+S
51
75
T+M (hand-labeled)
72
90
Nepal
T (baseline)
46
44
T+S
46
43
T+I
52
50
T+I+S
50
48
T+I_all
55
50
T+I_all+S
55
50
T+I_cross
52
50
T+I_cross+S
50
48
T_cross+I_cross
58
63
T_cross+I_cross+S
61
64
T+M (hand-labeled)
74
66
Alberta
T (baseline)
57
47
T+S
55
54
T+I
56
52
T+I+S
54
56
T+I_all
49
53
T+I_all+S
55
65
T+I_cross
56
52
T+I_cross+S
54
56
T_cross+I_cross
65
59
T_cross+I_cross+S
66
61
T+M (hand-labeled)
91
84
Harvey
T (baseline)
62
60
T+S
59
56
T+I
64
62
T+I+S
64
59
T+I_all
62
69
T+I_all+S
64
64
T+I_cross
64
62
T+I_cross+S
64
59
T_cross+I_cross
54
52
T_cross+I_cross+S
54
54
T+M (hand-labeled)
74
78
Bold indicates the best performance schemes

### 7.1 Result observations for individual request ranking

Table  5 compares the performance of different ranking model schemes described in Sect.  6, in terms of nDCG values of the first 5 positions $$(nDCG\hbox {@5})$$ and 10 positions $$(nDCG\hbox {@10})$$ of ranking. For a qualitative analysis of the resulting ranking systems, we also present top-2 and bottom-2 ranked items from T+I+S method in Table  6. We observe the following from these tables:
1.
Social features are useful for ranking serviceable requests Features based on social network characteristics help in finding and ranking serviceable request messages (see T+I+S results and other model variants with S in Table  5). Although, our experimental results showed some dependence on the dataset size for the effectiveness of this feature type; for the majority of the cases, the results show a favorable pattern over the baseline. Thus, we recommend to use social features but also suggest testing them with respect to specific deployment of serviceability ranking systems.
2.
The serviceability characteristics of our model capture the notion of serviceability desired by domain practitioners The performance of the ranking model schemes based on inferring serviceability characteristics is above the performance of the baseline in all cases, and if serviceability characteristics are given as manual inputs (i.e., the method T+M, hand-labeled), we obtain the best performance (except in the case of Louisiana due to very small labeled dataset for training, we explain it further in the observation 4.) We note, however, that obtaining labels for serviceability characteristics from human annotators in real-time is not practical; hence, we need to use inferred characteristics and our proposed ranking model schemes are advantageous.
3.
Inferring serviceability characteristics is better than the baseline Overall, there is a consistent pattern of good performance across the proposed ranking model schemes (i.e., T+I and variants). The improvement in nDCG@5 and nDCG@10 is obtained by adding the proposed serviceable characteristics features (automatically inferred) as well as the social features to the baseline text (bag-of-words) features ( T), thus, demonstrating the significance of these features for ranking highly serviceable requests quickly and efficiently in general.
4.
Ranking performance varies in the cases of small datasets Among the small datasets, we observe that in the Louisiana event, for top-5 positions ( T+I) results are not better than T. Although T+I_cross result is better, which has an advantage to leverage other large event datasets for training an efficient model. Note that given we use fivefold cross-validation, in the case of small datasets we have at most $$60/5=12$$ examples per fold, and in the case of large datasets we have $$240/5=48$$ examples per fold at least. There are less training examples for the small datasets (i.e., Oklahoma, Louisiana, Sandy) that limit the performance of a learning-to-rank model when using only the event-specific data, which is in line with our next observations.
5.
Cross-event models perform well We found promising results for majority of the ranking model schemes that use cross-event datasets to create a model for serviceability characteristics. In particular, the performance gains are clearer in the case of smaller event datasets than the larger ones, given the possibility of learning from a larger corpus. This is evident from the results (see T_cross + I_cross) for the Harvey event with large dataset, given that in the Harvey dataset we have more labeled data than all other events combined. Thus, the performance of this cross-event modeling scheme with less training data to leverage deteriorates for Harvey event.
6.
Serviceability characteristics-based features are among the best discriminators In the T+I model and variants, the inferred serviceability features were consistently among the top-5 discriminatory features of the classifiers. We identified the top-5 features using $$\chi ^2$$ test with stratified fivefold cross-validation. This feature analysis further justifies the improvement over the baseline model in Table  5.
7.
The ranked items from the resulting ranking system match the expectations on the qualitative serviceability characteristics Examples in Table  6 for the top (“best”) and bottom (“worst”) ranked messages shows good performance in prioritization, using the T+I+S method based on text (bag-of-word) as well as inferred serviceability characteristics and social features. The examples match the expectations on the qualitative serviceability characteristics for all of the cases, by prioritizing important messages among the top items. For instance, in the first case of Hurricane Sandy event, the top-ranked messages clearly have specific queries that could be answered by emergency services, while the bottom ones are insignificant for disaster response and are likely to waste the time of emergency services.
Table 6
Top-2 (most serviceable) and bottom-2 (least serviceable) tweets for each event across the last decade, obtained automatically using the T+I+S ranking model scheme
Event
Ranked requests
Hurricane Sandy 2012
[TOP]
* Please, governor, post a website or phone # where we can get specific info for our local areas
[BOTTOM]
Romney’s not going 2 like that Gov Christie is being nice about Obama’s leadership during Sandy. His pittbull is playing nice
HILARIOUS! That is much needed laughter, I am sure
[TOP]
* How can I donate to the US red cross from the UK? No option to donate from a UK address on the site
* You are correct only a perc goes to the victims
[BOTTOM]
I agree with ANONYMOUS. Any answers?
help us too!!! #oklahoma
Alberta Floods 2013
[TOP]
* Can you tell me if sanitary pumps are running yet in elbow park? #yycflood
* Can you point us to where we can get a prompt tetanus booster shot? Some of us had submerged cuts and nicks. #yycflood
[BOTTOM]
Thank u calgary police
Nepal Earthquake 2015
[TOP]
* cc @account0 have a collection point here in Hyd. Let me see if I can tag u to another tweet
* @account0 able to organize a collection of goods you mention but can Goonj guarantee they have capacity on ground to deliver?
[BOTTOM]
Send 100 bits to @account1 for #NepalEarthquake disaster recovery
I’m trying to send a fiver, FFS...
Louisiana Floods 2016
[TOP]
* Help needed! #Laflood #children #teens #teachers URL
* Want to help those who were affected by #LouisianaFlood, join us #LouisianaStrong URL
[BOTTOM]
Obama has taken fewer vacation days than any in recent. Wud u prefer he work 24/7
Why didn’t Jesus prevent the flood pretty simple no ?
Hurricane Harvey 2017
[TOP]
* This list of neighborhoods has caused confusion, we need clarity on exactly what areas are impacted by this
[BOTTOM]
I did thank you!
Yes thank you #harvey

### 7.2 Result observations for grouped requests ranking

We first study the distribution of resulting clusters from our two methods of fine- and coarse-granularity in Figs.  3 and  4, followed by the analysis of cluster-wise group ranking performance in Fig.  5 and Table  7. We note the following observations:
Table 7
Comparison of nDCG@5 (expressed as percentages) for the cluster ranking performance for each event using both fine- and coarse-granularity. ( chose $$k=5$$ for consistency across both clustering types)
Event
nDCG@5 Fine-granularity (%)
nDCG@5 Coarse-granularity (%)
Oklahoma
100
100
Sandy
100
100
Louisiana
100
100
Nepal
100
100
Harvey
100
96.75
Alberta
86.88
100
1.
Fine-grained grouping method primarily shows the presence of incoherent clusters The histograms of cluster size in Fig.  3 show equal-sized clusters across the events (except Louisiana and Nepal with some dense clusters as well) that indicate the presence of syntactic redundancy in social media requests. These varying cluster sizes validate our initial motivation to systematically exploit the behavior of redundancy of requests for the ranking.

2.
Coarse-grained grouping method results in highly imbalanced clusters Figure  4 shows the consistency in the imbalanced cluster distribution of social media requests across all the events. Note that the small datasets have requests of only few types, yet with the majority of the instances belonging to the specific common category of DBpedia class ‘PublicService’ that is present across all the events. Although both sparse and dense clusters of serviceable requests can result from this method, there is higher coherence among the requests. This indicates the possibility to design a top-down faceted browsing system for semantically grouped social media requests across the sub-categories of a top category using DBpedia ontology.

3.
Cluster rank is negatively correlated with the cluster size Figure  5 shows the Pearson correlation coefficient between the cluster size versus the cluster rank in case of both types of clustering. This indicates the higher-ranked (more relevant) requests tend to be topically unique, while the lower-ranked (less relevant) requests have greater levels of content redundancy. This also suggests there are some messages that have relatively low relevance and are repeated much more in social media than messages that are relatively more important. In other words, redundancy alone is a weak signal of relevance.

4.
Ranking of the clusters of requests using both fine and coarse approaches shows good performance, based on nDCG @5 metric As shown in Table  7, re-ranking of grouped/clustered requests shows good ranking performance with average nDCG@5 greater than 98% for the ranked clusters from both types of clustering across all events. This suggests that the re-ranking by semantic grouping may not impact the prior ranking system’s performance metrics and the proposed grouping approach rather acts as a filter for efficient interaction with semantically similar information.

5.
Grouping social media requests using semantic representation of coarse-granularity method is useful for long-term disaster response Given the coarse-granularity clustering results into more coherent clusters, it is a better approach for the longer periodic grouping of requests, where there is greater likelihood of multiple coherent topics of requests instead of only exact or near duplicates. In contrast, fine-granularity clustering method is useful for grouping and ranking in the short time intervals, as it groups and reduces near-duplicates of same content with higher syntactic overlaps.

## 8 Conclusions and future work

This paper presents a novel study of serviceable request characteristics of social media messages, which can improve prioritization, filtering, and organization of request messages from social media streams for emergency services. This is done through a novel model for serviceability of social media requests sent to an organization or agency by a user, called the Social-EOC serviceability model. We should note that in some cases serviceable requests are posted by users directly affected, who request help for themselves. In other cases, those affected may not be able to post a message and the serviceable message may be posted on their behalf by somebody else.
We demonstrated the applicability of this serviceability model for emergency services by creating different types of classification and ranking systems using the proposed serviceability characteristics of a request message, social network characteristics of connectedness of the requesting user, as well as a novel semantic grouping method for addressing redundancy of the ranked requests. Specifically, we proposed several systems for classifying and ranking requests for serviceability, with a baseline text-based method using bag-of-words features, and a series of variants of our method while leveraging inferred features for the serviceability characteristics and social features. We further presented a method for re-ranking and semantic grouping of requests by two clustering types of fine- and coarse-granularity.
Our experimental evaluation on six disaster events showed a consistent performance gain for the systems that were based on inclusion of features for the serviceability characteristics (relative gain in nDCG@10 and nDCG@5 of up to 25%). We also observed the effectiveness of the proposed semantic grouping method in reducing the redundancy of similar requests yet preserving the high relevance requests in the clusters at the top of cluster ranking, as observed by the average nDCG@5 above 98% for the cluster rankings across events. The application of the proposed method can help in improving social media services at emergency management organizations. This in turn can provide a complementary capability for traditional communication channels such as 911 in the USA and 112 in Europe that often get overwhelmed during mass emergencies.

### 8.1 Limitations and future work

While our presented method can prioritize and group serviceable messages, it has some limitations.
First, the analyzed data contain only English language messages, which is the dominant language in the data collections we use. However, we anticipate the core information characteristics of serviceability for the messages to be the same, or similar, across messages written in other languages. Similarly, we note that all our dataset come from the same platform, i.e., Twitter, and we would need to evaluate messages in other platforms where populations and norms may be different and hence, serviceability might differ.
Second, our experiments considered overall serviceability at the binary levels. Future works could consider serviceability to be a matter of non-binary grading levels; however, the same methodology and evaluation could be applied given that nDCG measure can be used with non-binary relevance assessments.
Third, we focused on the semantic grouping of requests based on textual content, while there can be also grouping by spatial and temporal semantics. We plan to explore the ensemble of diverse semantic grouping approaches in a future study.
Fourth, there is a possibility of temporal significance of relevancy for the posting time when a request was posted, such as when the hurricane landfall occurs. However, in this research, the data collection was focused on the period of active response to the emergency. This translates to the observation from our temporal analysis that the percentage of relevant messages per day never fell below a certain threshold in an event. Thus, a system based on this method would require some pre-filtering of relevant messages, especially if applied outside the active response period. A future work could explore this direction further for temporal significance of requests to develop a generic social media filtering and ranking system for all phases of the disaster management.
Fifth, there is no availability of real-time data for the actual social network structure, which could be leveraged for generating more features based on social network characteristics to benefit the real-time serviceability ranking applications.
Sixth, there is a likelihood of a user sending emotional messages for requesting help, or using certain patterns of vocabulary that is used by people under extreme stress and can be a part of conversational context. Therefore, features capturing such subjectivity could be explored for ranking serviceable requests in the future work.

### 8.2 Reproducibility

Anonymized messages, a list of official accounts, the crowdsourced and expert labels as well as codes are available at: http://​shorturl.​at/​hnqCH.

## Acknowledgements

We thank Yogen Chaudhari, Sharan Sai Banola, and Mohammad Rana for helping in data collection. Purohit thanks US National Science Foundation Grants IIS-1657379 and 1815459, and Castillo thanks La Caixa project LCF/PR/PR16/11110009 for partial support to this research.
Open AccessThis article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://​creativecommons.​org/​licenses/​by/​4.​0/​.

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