The advent of online social networks (OSNs) paired with the ubiquitous proliferation of smartphones have enabled social sensing systems. In the last few years, the aptitude of humans to spontaneously collect and timely share context information has been exploited for emergency detection and crisis management. Apart from event-specific features, these systems share technical approaches and architectural solutions to
address the issues with capturing, filtering and extracting meaningful information from data posted to OSNs by networks of human sensors. This paper proposes a conceptual and architectural framework for the design of emergency detection systems based on the “human as a sensor” (HaaS) paradigm. An ontology for the HaaS paradigm in the context of emergency detection is defined. Then, a modular architecture, independent of a specific emergency type, is designed. The proposed architecture is demonstrated by an implemented application for detecting earthquakes via Twitter. Validation and experimental results based on messages posted during earthquakes occurred in Italy are reported.