Your tweets, blogs and Facebook posts could soon be used by Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) for use in weather monitoring activities as part of a new action plan to pull the government forecasting agency out of dark times.
According to a new government report into the BOM, the agency is falling apart at the seams. The somewhat troubling review released last week (PDF), highlights an agency that is pulling through by the skin of its teeth. It doesn’t have enough frontline staff to adequately respond to a crisis like the Queensland floods, nor does it have the funds to replace vital IT systems and hardware that have been pushed to breaking point.
A 29-step priority plan has been put in place to pull the BOM up by its bootstraps and one of the recommendations includes pulling user-generated content together to get a better picture of extreme events, while at the same time, sending out official warning messages and updates.
The BOM is investigating the use of social media, “to enhance data gathering from authorised and informal sources”, but staffing and funding restrictions may prevent the plan from ever taking off.
The potential role of social media for disseminating weather information, and particularly warnings, has been investigated by the Bureau. Its preliminary conclusions are that the resources required to moderate social media pages may be beyond its means and that to avoid misinformation they would be unwilling to include ‘official’ Bureau material on a site dominated by user-generated content. These are reasonable concerns. However, demand for these services may be driven by the performance of other agencies and in the future it may simply not be possible to communicate effectively with certain parts of the community without using the preferred social media channels.
Funding is a serious concern for the BOM, so much so that the review is recommending that the agency investigate putting banner ads on its site to generate revenue from private interests (something it has already considered and rejected twice before). Given that their site garners billions of hits a year, perhaps it’s not a terrible idea.
I don’t know about you, but I’d be happy to pay a few bucks for an app that the BOM puts out for mobile devices for example. Perhaps we should get a Kickstarter going to keep the BOM working?