Tag Archives: Australia

How do we reach young people with disaster info? Think mobile.

Post by Kim Stephens

When Volunteering Queensland wanted to develop a “Disaster App” that also addressed the needs of young people, developers took a novel approach: they asked youths what they wanted. Specifically they conducted in-depth research through a series of facilitated workshops in a process they called “participatory data collection.” They found that the App “must be flexible, adaptive and youth-targeted in terms of content, language, imagery and interaction and importantly, stream real-time, localised information. The research has also revealed the need for a streamlined source of information and directory of services and resources that young people can easily engage with.” The analysis was led by Anthony Frangi of the School of Journalism and Communication of the University of Queensland and it resulted in the report titled: Strengthening Youth Resilience to Natural Disaster with Smartphone Technology.

I found this report fascinating since it dovetails almost the exact same issues we encounter in the U.S., although I know of no similar research that asks American youths what they would like to see in a disaster App. We tend to take a one-size fits all approach. However, it is interesting to note that for the most part, the youths  that participated detailed the same kinds of information requirements as adults. One exception, however, is possibly in how they determine whether or not they will volunteer. As I’ve seen with my own teens, they want to volunteer, but only if people from their friend network are also participating.

This report is also valuable in terms of the cited research they provide as background information. For instance, when discussing resilience  as it pertains to young people they state:

… youth have particular needs and different means of communicating, and as bigger risk-takers than their adult counterparts are often perceived as requiring additional support, including peer, and role models for safety behaviour. Additionally, young people may also require assistance post events, in order to fully ‘process’ the events around them. Disaster management often assumes young people are ‘passive’ with little role in communicating risks or preventing and responding to disasters; with such responsibilities awarded to the grown-ups; and certainly it is an under-researched area. Choong et al (2008) counters this, arguing that youth have great capacity to play positive and important roles in disaster resilience, including being a part of the knowledge making processes – before, during and after disasters, and engaging in positions of leadership and responsibility within the community and among peers.”

This report is certainly one to bookmark if your agency is considering developing an App, I’ve already put it in my list of resources. By the way, here’s the App they eventually created. According to their website the App allows people to do following:

  1. Register with CREW to be an emergency volunteer;
  2. See current emergency volunteering opportunities;
  3. Access all the key contacts for emergencies in one place and save your own emergency contacts;
  4. Watch short disaster preparedness and response videos;
  5. Find out what you need to have in your emergency stay/go kit (and check them off when you’ve got them);
  6. Read the latest news from www.emergencyvolunteering.com.au.

New Report on Twitter Use in Queensland Floods

Post by: Kim Stephens

A new report was released this week which examines the use of Twitter during the January 2011 flooding event in Queensland, Australia.  The report was led by Dr. Alex Bruns and Dr. Jean Burgess of the Media Ecologies Project, ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) with Kate Crawford and Frances Shaw of University of New South Wales (see citation below).  They examine the role of Twitter during that event by applying a rigorous research methodology, which is detailed in the report.

The report has a list of 21 key findings in the executive summary. To me, the most interesting aspect of what they discovered was the weight the most visible emergency services account, @QPSMedia, carried in the twitter-sphere. It demonstrates how valuable this communication became during the flooding as people gravitated to official information. What they confirm is the notion that if your agency participates on social platforms with consistent, clear, timely messages, you can become the voice people trust.

Here’s the list of their 11 finding regarding @QPSMedia:

  • As the most visible account on #qldfloods, the Queensland Police Service Media Unit account (@QPSMedia) played a leading role in disseminating timely and relevant information to the public, and in coordinating and guiding the wider discussion.
  • The Queensland Police Service was able to ‘cut through’ effectively: to reach its immediate audience as well as be passed along and thus amplified many times over, with the help of other Twitter users acting as further information disseminators, especially at the height of the crisis.
  • Tweets from and to the @QPSMedia account were overwhelmingly focussed on providing situational information and advice. Engagement between @QPSMedia and its followers remained topical and to the point, significantly involving directly affected local residents.
  • By contrast, the overall #qldfloods discussion contained substantially more tweets discussing the wider implications of the disaster and offering personal reactions, often sent from elsewhere in Australia and the world.
  • @QPSMedia’s ‘#Mythbuster’ tweets – directly tackling the rumours and misinformation about the floods which circulated on Twitter and elsewhere – were especially successful, and very widely retweeted.
  • The central role of @QPSMedia as an information source was widely acknowledged and applauded by Twitter users even while the disaster event itself still unfolded. This also places @QPSMedia well as an important participant in the Twitter-based coverage and management of future crises.
  • Additionally, @QPSMedia also played a crucial role in enabling affected locals and more distant onlookers to begin the difficult process of making sense and coming to terms with these events, even while they were still unfolding.
  • The tenor of tweets during the latter days of the immediate crisis shifted more strongly towards organising volunteering and fundraising efforts, but more strongly so in the overall #qldfloods discussion than in the @QPSMedia conversation. @QPSMedia provided information on volunteering opportunities, but did not significantly promote fundraising schemes.
  • Retweeting of messages focussed especially on tweets with immediate relevance to the crisis at hand: tweets containing situational information and advice, and news media and multimedia links were retweeted disproportionately often. In general #qldfloods discussion, though not in the @QPSMedia conversation, this is true also for help and fundraising tweets. Less topical tweets were far less likely to be retweeted.
  • @QPSMedia’s now established position as a leading account for crisis communication in Queensland places it well to explore more systematic approaches for crowdsourcing situationally valuable information directly from the Twitter community, in addition to continuing its role as a key information disseminator.
  • Similarly, @QPSMedia is also in a position to build further dedicated links to the Twitter accounts of key media organisations and civic authorities, to develop a more comprehensive social media crisis communication infrastructure in Queensland.

Citation: Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, Kate Crawford, and Frances Shaw. #qldfloods and @QPSMedia: Crisis Communication on Twitter in the 2011 South East Queensland Floods. Brisbane: ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, 2012.

Social Media’s Use in Emergencies: Research from Victoria, Australia

Post by: Kim Stephens

We often lament in the emergency management community that there isn’t enough quantitative data regarding the use of social media in disasters. A new report from Australia is helping to fill that void. During the 2011 Victorian Floods social media was difficult to ignore. The Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner and the Victorian State Emergency Service therefore  commissioned Alliance Strategic Research to conduct an independent research project to explore and document social media’s use during that event. The research objectives:

  • document social media comments during the Victorian floods
  • analyse and ascertain the nature of these comments
  • establish flows of information and recommend approaches for future events

I haven’t had a chance to read through the entire report yet, but they have a great video describing the major findings. Two things that stood out to me: one, people start talking about recovery issues during the height of the crisis; two, the tone of people’s responses are more positive than negative.

Here is their summary of major findings:

  • the key behaviour documented was spreading information through social media channels, with the information generally helpful and positive in its nature;
  • regional areas of Victoria are active in social media;
  • different social media channels were used for different types of communications at different times;
  • social media volume increases with the population of the affected area, severity and duration of events;
  • Twitter was the most active medium, and was used heavily by media outlets;
  • evidence of a one-to-one communications model, with community members engaging with each other individually.

This link will take you to their homepage where you can download the full report.

Disaster 2.0 in Australia

Post By: Kim Stephens

The Australian Government 2.0 Task Force was formed back in 2009 in order to determine how best to leverage public sector information and online engagement. They went through a process similar to what the Obama administration went through upon taking office in 2008.

But what I found most interesting, not surprisingly, was the Emergency 2.0 component. For one, I love that a quote from Brian Humphrey of LAFD was displayed promently on the blog: “We can no longer afford to work at the speed of government…we have responsibilities to the public to move the information as quickly as possible…so that they can make key decisions.

With regard to emergency managment they had some key findings. I think almost every one of these could apply here in the U.S. today, April 2011:

  • The key themes… for all stakeholders are trust, transparency and timeliness
  • Citizens are willing to trade-off reliability and accuracy for timeliness in certain circumstances, (emphasis added) and will resort to other information sources such as social media if the official authorities cannot provide timely information.
  • EM2 services need to:
    • make use of multiple channels but with consistent messages
    • be interactive and responsive
    • be ‘relevant to me’ (ie personalised)
  • For Agencies, there are a number of factors to balance:
    • Quality vs timeliness of information
    • Control vs. (perceived) chaos
    • All Hazards and PPRR
  • From a technology viewpoint, applications and services need to be:
    • standards-based to enable aggregation and mash-ups
    • low-tech & robust
    • fast-evolving (e.g. Twitter Geo-API)

Unsurprisingly, many of the crowdsourced recommendations (and those that received the most votes in our idea register) echo common themes that have been seen in Government 2.0 discussions, such as:

  • Creating open access to emergency data, to ensure others can mashup and contribute to useful services.
  • Ensuring useful government data is subscribed (eg RSS) so citizens can be kept up to date
  • Increasing executive awareness and buy-in (emphasis added)
  • Building audience literacy.

Since the massive flooding event in Australia they continue to build on these recommendations. Of course, the Queensland Police Service Media Department (as I’ve documented here) used social media with great success. But during the symposium “Social Media in Times of Crisis,” reported on by Stephen Collins of Acid Labs blog, the local governments are also looking to provide new ways for citizens to engage and contribute. This includes an emergency 2.0 wiki and the use of Ushahidi. Mr. Collins described Ipswich City Council’s concept for the emergency 2.0 wiki:

  • the wiki is under development and is intended for use by the public, responders and government as a light weight, agile way to improve informa­tion with respect to emergency and disaster management with out the need to process emergent matters and best practice through a lengthy lessons learned process that fails to adapt to changing situations and new information;
  • the wiki, with an initial focus on Queensland services, will provide “trusted, locally sourced information allowing communities to self-​​mobilise, develop resilience and lever age social capital”;
  • one of the drivers for the wiki was the Social Media for Emergency Manage­ment project that emerged from the Government 2.0 Taskforce.

Mr. Collins concludes his blog summary of the event lamenting that the government isn’t further along with its ability to embrace or leverage fairly mature technologies. Honestly, however, I think they might be much further along than we are. Read his entire post, it’s quite interesting.

Related Articles

Using Social Media to Gain Situational Awareness — It’s Time To Question Assumptions

Post by: Kim Stephens

Many have assumed that after a large-scale disaster event all communications would be silenced in the impacted areas.  Recent experience, however, has proved this assumption incorrect — first with Haiti (Jan 2010) and then in recent months in  Australia. In both cases, the cell towers proved to be more resilient than assumed.  Because social media platforms can be accessed on hand-held communication devices, survivors and public safety organizations have turned to these platforms as a way to keep the information flowing during and after a disaster.

Citizens in impacted areas don’t just receive information, but increasingly, they send out bits of data about what they are seeing, hearing, and feeling through these platforms. These data, if aggregated, can contribute to overall situational awareness.  We are really beginning to understand Brian Humphrey of LAFD’s phrase “every citizen is a sensor”, a take on the phrase every soldier is a sensor. But what now? Citizens, obviously, do not pass the information up through chains of command, nor do usually pass that information in any structured way. How do we filter, verify, aggregate and make sense of ALL THAT DATA?  As crisis mapper and PhD candidate Kate Starbird said in a recent interview: “Should it be the only source of information? Absolutely not. But if it’s there, why not use the information?” Also see this video of Craig Fugate, Director FEMA, talk about how important this is.

This is a really big topic so I have just tackled a small part of the issue in this post. I also have tried to include as many links as possible to articles that explore the topic in much greater depth. The point here is to try to aggregate some of these issues and questions for use in our discussion on the SMEMchat hashtag, which is scheduled to take place Friday, Feb. 3 at 1230. If you have other questions you’d like brought up, please post them to twitter on #SMEM or at the bottom of this post.

QUESTION #1: How do we gather  information from social media platforms?

(a.) One way to gather data: ask for it. The US Army Handbook on Social Media suggests that during an emergency “Organizations should encourage people on the scene to send information.” They go on to state that “No matter how information is submitted, the command site should promote this content when appropriate.”

(b.) Be a magnet. What I think we are seeing in Australia, is that the Queensland Police Service social media presence has created an avenue for people to provide information that can be more easily monitored by response personnel. They have done this both with their twitter account, by establishing and using hashtags that were widely adopted during the flood and the current cyclone, and by creating a robust facebook page. Just by reading through the comments on the QPS site, you get a sense of how people can provide situational awareness information directly to you. One person states: “Just gotten in contact with family in Kewarra and they have power, not to sure of damage but it wasn’t as bad as we first thought…”

One concern I’ve heard voiced from response organizations is privacy. However, if people are volunteering their information to your open and public site, they most likely understand it is not a private conversation. Another concern I’ve heard came from the QPS media team themselves, there is a LOT of information to sort through. This brings up the question:

Can/should emergency operation centers use volunteers to help sort through the data pouring in through their own social media sites?

(c.) Have trusted sources: Other emergency managers, Cheryl Bledsoe in particular, have noted the importance of  having a presence before an event, which helps create real trust with people online. During an event you can turn to these “trusted agents” as sources of information. (Hey @greatguy What are you seeing around the lake?).

Again, Jeff Phillips, aka @LosRanchosEM, provides a great example of this. Here in this screen shot of his twitter feed, you can see that he is retweeting information supplied by others. When asked about his practices in RTing Jeff states: “I do my best to verify “trust” before RT – not the same as saying only “official” sources. Sometimes I RT with a question mark.” I asked him if he includes that information in his official situational report, and he indicated that he does include verified information in his county’s sitrep.

QUESTION #2:  Can We Ask for the data, but in a structured format? Even in Australia, however, we have seen that being a magnet for information is really not enough. There is just too much information for response organizations to make sense of it all in a timely manner. Some of the posts on the QPS facebook page received over 1000 comments. There were thousands of tweets during and after the cyclone with the tag #TCYasi. Trying to sort through and make sense of all of that potential data is a real problem. (I say potential because a lot of comments are merely “thanks for the good work!”.)

What smart phone applications and other formats have been developed to help citizens report data in structured format?

(a.) For smaller-scale events, an example of an application that would make it easier for the public to send information in a more structured format is the application “See Click Fix” which is promoted for use in identifying non-emergency issues in neighborhoods. (Thanks to @UrbanAreaAlicia for pointing this out). As stated on their webpage, this application “allows anyone to report and track non-emergency issues anywhere in the world via the internet.” As the “click” implies, people are encouraged to send in photos of the problems.  If you are reminded of Ushahidi, I’ll get to that in a moment. But applications like this one might be worth exploring for use after a disaster, particularly for local government with limited resources.

(b.) The public can also be educated about how to structure information shared through social media platforms so that it can be integrated with other data feeds and placed on visualization platforms. One example of this is the National Weather Service’s new experiment called “Twitter Storm Reports” In their flyer they state: “You can now submit your significant weather observations to the NWS via twitter.” The two page flyer gives very specific information on how-to structure tweets, including a full description of how they should be written with or without geo-tagging.  One of the example tweets demonstrates the importance of including the person’s location if they do not have geo-tagging. “#wxreport WW 378 W. 156th Rd. Anthony, KS WW Wind Gusts estimated at 60 mph”.

(c.) This reminded me of the “Tweak the tweet”, an ongoing effort on the part of aforementioned Kate Starbird, a PhD student at the University of Colorado, to educate the public about how to better format tweets in order to”leverage twitter as a semi-formal communications channel”. The campaign also informs users on how to format tweets so that computers can aid in processing the information.

“This processing includes extracting location information, creating incident reports from tweets, and sorting these reports into different types of categories. The processed tweets can then be displayed on public web-pages in a variety of formats that allows users to see where different types of information has been reported.”

This is a very impressive endeavor that is starting to yield some great results. See this 3 page description here.

Correction: In my attempt to be brief it seems I left out some important information. I received an email from Jeannie A. Stamberger, Ph.D., Adjunct Faculty,Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley, that sheds some additional light on how and why the tweak-the-tweet was created. Dr. Stamberger states:

I wanted to let you know that I co-created Tweak the Tweet with Kate Starbird at the Random Hacks of Kindness in November 2009; we have published on creating the idea together. At Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley Disaster Mangement Initiative we continue to work on Twitter use in disasters exploring further questions related to gathering accurate credible information from the crowd including just-in-time credibility building, use of social media in disaster drills which teach the public how to use information resources during a disaster, and we will be testing methods in May using Tweak the Tweet in amateur radio; amateur radio is the backbone of communication in disasters, yet the information is missing from the digital feeds currently being processed by the crowd to aid disaster management.

We are also working with local authorities to develop optimal “canned” alert messages to familiarize them with the in’s and out’s of how to get your message across. Others at CMU are working on identifying location of Tweets from colloquial language in content (see January publications) and comprehensive analysis of characteristics associated with re-Tweeting likelihood.

(d.) And Ushahidi (if you’ve never heard of Ushahidi watch this video) has an iPhone app as well. From the iTunes preview page: “Ushahidi is an open source platform for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories.  The iPhone and iPad app synchronizes with any Ushahidi deployment allowing viewing and creation of incident reports on the go.”

The app supports loading of multiple deployments at one time, quick filtering through incident reports, exploring incident locations on the map, viewing incident photos, news article, media as well as sharing incident reports via email, sms or Twitter. Once the data has been downloaded, the app can function without an internet connection, allowing accurate collection of data utilizing the device’s camera and gps capabilities.

QUESTION #3: Can We Combine social media with geo-spatial mapping?

The description of Ushahidi’s app dovetails perfectly with the question of integrating social media with geo-spatial mapping. Again this example comes from the resent back-to-back crises in Australia. Although geo-spatial mapping with crowdsourced data on the Ushahidi platform  became very well known after its well-publicized use in Haiti, I think it showed even more promise in the application’s deployment in Australia when it was combined with the power of the GIS mapping giant, ESRI.  The application allowed for “trend analysis” and, based on reports from the field, was used by responders “to create releveance and context from social media reporting.”  See this article by Alex Howard, of O’Reilly Radar. Alex continues:

The Australian flooding web app includes the ability to toggle layers from OpenStreetMap, satellite imagery, topography, and filter by time or report type. By adding structured social data, the web app provides geospatial information system (GIS) operators with valuable situational awareness that goes beyond standard reporting, including the locations of property damage, roads affected, hazards, evacuations and power outages.

Here is a screen shot of ESRI’s application during Cyclone Yasi.

QUESTION #4How do we create feedback loops so that responders know when information coming from social media platforms has been acted upon? See the article listed below “From Haiti to-Helmand” for a detailed discussion of this point. Lin Well’s states that feedback is essential to not only know what has been acted upon, but to identify what has not.

There is a lot to discuss. I’m anxious to participate in the online chat with the emergency management community on this topic. I will report back with everyone’s thoughts.

Some Great Sources:

Your comments and suggestions are invited.

Dropping the Social Media Ball in Australia

Moreton bay islands

Image via Wikipedia

Post By: Kim Stephens

Ignoring social media as a form of crisis communications has consequences for local governments, no matter where you reside. Recently, I wrote about how the Queensland Police Service did an amazing job with social media to keep their population informed during the unprecedented flood events. Apparently, the fact that some communities were getting this service was not lost on surrounding areas that did not have access to the a constant stream of information and interaction.

As noted in a story in “The Westerner“, an online newspaper from down under, the local Moreton Bay Regional Council did not use facebook or twitter during the recent flooding events, even though they had a presence on those platforms. Apparently, officials there did a terrible job relaying emergency information, which people attributed to their lack of a social media presence. Last week, one councillor who was fed up with the problems of information flow pushed the other members to vote on whether or not to embrace social media as a means of emergency communications. The unanimous decision in favor was said to come “…on the back of sheer frustration of a lack of information getting to residents.”

Also, an Australian blogger recounts the story of how citizens reacted to this lack of information, which seemed to have caused some real problems: residents were told to flee rising flood waters via SMS text, without any subsequent information about where to go.
On Sunday, the weather began to worsen. Sheets of rain crashed down on the region, cutting roads. By that afternoon, Toogoolawah, west of Caboolture, had been isolated by floodwaters.  Rising water had swamped Gympie and Maryborough and cut the Bruce Highway just north of Caboolture and south of Gympie. A number of other local roads were also cut.
But residents searching for information on the road closures were not going to find it too easily. There would be no road condition reports provided on the Moreton Bay Regional Council’s website until the next day. Being a Sunday, no council officers were available to post the information online, leaving residents to search in vain. Many residents complained the warning had come too late to even get out of their homes.
The residents’ frustration was vented in the form of comments on the local newspapers website. This open forum for airing concerns also turned into a make-shift information exchange, again demonstrating the citizens thirst for knowledge from any source:

“When we got he notice to evacuate, my husband was stuck on one side of the river and I was at home with a car, dropped out electricity, so phone out, and then the mobile out. Tried ringing and ringing to get advice but no one answered. I will not forget this..” one resident wrote.

Another stated:I too am very disappointed with the council. I live between Sheep Station Crk and Caboolture river. Being stuck in the middle with no way out. No information from council as to what to do and where we could go. Disgraceful MBRC.”

Just wondering if anyone knows how Seeney Street in Caboolture is please? We have a house in the street and have not heard anything as yet.

Now that the Council’s facebook page is being utilized, they are still getting lambasted. One person posted on the page “way to drop the ball…” Others lamented that their small area didn’t get the media coverage other larger cities did, saying that this lack of media coverage should have prompted the council to provide even MORE information, not less.

The moral of the story is self-evident: learn how to use social media to the fullest extent, and learn it before the next emergency.
For More information: