Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 40 Number 1 2023 pp. 163-182

Moving Emergency Response Forward: Leveraging Machine-Learning Classification of Disaster-Related Images Posted on Social Media

Johnson, Matthew, Murthy, Dhiraj, Robertson, Brett W, Smith, William Roth, and Stephens, Keri K


Social media platforms are increasingly used during disasters. In the United States, users often consider these platforms to be reliable news sources and they believe first responders will see what they publicly post. While having ways to request help during disasters might save lives, this information is difficult to find because non-relevant content on social media completely overshadows content reflective of who needs help. To resolve this issue, we develop a framework for classifying hurricane-related images that have been human-annotated. Our approach uses transfer learning and classifies each image using the VGG-16 convolutional neural network and multi-layer perceptron classifiers according to the urgency, relevance, and time period, in addition to the presence of damage and relief motifs. We find that our framework not only successfully functions as an accurate method for hurricane-related image classification but also that real-time classification of social media images using a small training set is possible.

Key words and phrases: Social media, machine learning, transfer learning, natural disasters, disaster relief, emergency management