Ashlea Milburn, associate professor of industrial engineering, studies the role of social media in emergency response planning. After a disaster, information such as locations of victims and the supplies they need often appear on social media sites such as Twitter, and Milburn’s goal is to help responders use this information. She has received a prestigious a prestigious CAREER award through the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program to support her research, which seeks to find a balance between acting quickly and seeking reliable information.

“One way to accelerate emergency response is to harness the power of social data,” said Milburn. “But we have to be careful. Just like everything we hear or read or see on the Internet, we can’t believe it’s accurate just because it’s there. I’ve talked to many emergency managers who said their agencies take action on social data only after verifying it. This takes time too. Our models will help address this problem.”

Milburn’s computer models will quantify the value of information at various stages of verification. Algorithms for the models will focus on “uncertain” data, which is information from reports that emergency responders cannot verify or trust, as opposed to information gleaned from “bootson- the-ground” assessments. Milburn will then use simulated scenarios to compare the results of response planning with and without the help of social media.

Milburn said there are risks associated with ignoring social-media data. Her research is aimed at evaluating the trade-off of getting more information faster with a risk that some of the information may not be accurate. Milburn joined the faculty of the Department of Industrial Engineering in 2010. She received a doctorate in industrial and systems engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology, after earning a master’s degree from Virginia Tech and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas. Her primary areas of teaching and research are healthcare systems engineering, humanitarian logistics and transportation logistics.