Tag Archives: Flood

QPS Media Story Never Gets Old!

Post by: Kim Stephens

Special Emergency Response Team (Queensland)

Special Emergency Response Team (Queensland) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

July 12, 2012 ZDNET posted a story recounting the amazing experience of Queensland Police Service and their use of social media during the January 2011 floods in Australia. Reading it reminded me of why I find the cause of social media and emergency/crisis communications so compelling. There are numerous quotes from Kym Charlton- executive director of the Queensland Police Service’s (QPS) media and public affairs branch, that could headline a social media and emergency management conference. Each of her statements seem to address the question “Why should I use social media to communicate with the public during a crisis?”

Here’s what they learned:

  • Bypass the Media as the message filter and provide hyper-local information:

“We were able to pump out a whole lot of information that we knew wouldn’t make the mainstream media; they just wouldn’t have picked up that volume of information. It was quite low level, but it was really important if it was about your area,” she said.

  • Get information out in a timely fashion:

“Rather than me sitting in a disaster-management meeting, listening to the premier being briefed, taking notes, going out and giving it to someone to write a media release, then spending the rest of the day chasing around incredibly busy people to clear the information, I started to post status updates as I heard the premier being briefed,” she said.

  • Expect to work long days:

“For example, the day that the Lockyer Valley flooded was the same day that Brisbane and Ipswich realised there was going to be a major flood. All of a sudden, you had the entire population of both cities desperately trying to work out if their houses were going to flood. A lot of people weren’t here in 1974; also, there are way more houses [now] than there used to be. We saw a huge jump of people coming to the page to find that information.” On that particular day, 10 January, Charlton sent her first and last tweets at 4.45am and 11.45pm, respectively.

  • Expect a huge increase in the amount of people accessing your social pages. 

“The numbers surrounding 10 January are astonishing. The QPS Facebook page received 39 million individual story views — the equivalent of 450 page impressions per second — while being updated by staff every 10 minutes or so. (“That amount of traffic would have crashed both our public website and our operational website,” Charlton noted.)

Their Facebook audience grew from 16,500 on 9 January to 165,000 within a fortnight; many of those joined the page during the 24-hour period following the Lockyer Valley torrent. Overnight, the QPS social-media accounts had become a lifejacket to which many Queenslanders clung.

  • Establish your social presence before an event occurs.

“We were in that wonderful position where we knew enough to be able to use it [during the floods],” she said. “It wasn’t a decision where anyone said, OK, we’re going to focus on social media’. We just started doing it because it worked.”

  • Don’t advertise the goods, just deliver them.

“…QPS is just one shining star within a tight-knit constellation of Australian police departments that live and breathe social media each day. None of them have spent a single cent on advertising or promoting these channels; fittingly, they’ve all developed organically through networked word of mouth.”

End result: “…connect humans with one another, and to share meaningful information immediately.”

Thank you QPS Media and ZDNet for reminding us all of this amazing story and example to live up to!

Queensland Flood Event: Leveraging Technology During a Crisis

Post: By Kim Stephens

My last post discussed the Queensland Police Department’s effective use of social media during the current flooding disaster to disseminate information. Now I would like to turn to examples of  how social media can facilitate “citizen helping citizen”.  Citizens aiding each other during a crisis is obviously not new, what is new is the ability to leverage technology, such as social media and crowdsourcing platforms, to amplify efforts and potentially even take some of the pressure off traditional response organizations.

Eventually, it would be worth examining the efficacy of these campaigns based on some sort of established criteria. For example, the five criteria outlined in Ushahidi’s own evaluation of their effort in Haiti were: relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact, and sustainability. But for now, I’d like to just catalog some examples of these endeavors and take a quick stab at their relevance based on number of users/distribution.

1. Citizen to Citizen Aid: Housing

Finding shelter is a common problem in any disaster. But Oz Flood Help.org (a “social media project by “Get-Up Australia”) has essentially crowdsourced the problem by providing a platform where people can describe their housing needs and then be matched with homeowners willing to open their doors. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen home-sharing sites, during the Colorado wildfires around the Boulder area there was a similar effort. This one, however, seems to have more widespread participation, with about 400 homes offered–22 pages of homes were listed at time of writing.

I can hear lawyers groaning over the potential liability issues, but the organization’s “Terms Of Use” seems to be in order:

Liability
OzFloodHelp is provided on an “as is” basis, and without any warranties, representations or conditions, express or implied, in respect of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.
Under no circumstances are we liable or responsible to you for: (a) any direct loss, claims or damages (including negligence and breach of contract); or (b) any special, punitive, indirect or consequential loss including loss of profit or revenue, loss of data, loss of opportunities, loss of goodwill or reputation, or liabilities arising from third parties, (even if we have been advised of the possibility of your loss) resulting from any aspect of your use, or inability to use, OzFloodHelp or the Services.

You indemnify us, our officers, directors, employees, agents, affiliates and representatives against any claim, loss or damage incurred by you or any third party arising directly or indirectly in connection with your use of OzFloodHelp and the Services.

2. Citizen to Citizen Aid: Pets 

Finding your lost pets is another common problem in a crisis. Facebook pages, such as the one pictured on the right, have sprung up to fill this need. The “Lost and Found” site uses the power of social media to disseminate information about animals affected by this event. The stated goal is simply “just hoping this page can help to reunite some owners with their pets after the devastating floods that have hit QLD 2011″.  As stated in the paper “Crowdsourcing Critical Success Factor Model” by Ankit Sharma, one criteria for success is sufficient crowd participation. That seems like an obvious criteria when trying to reunite animals with owners. This site, with over 10,000 fans, seemed to be a great example.

3. Citizen to Citizen: Situational Awareness Information 

The Australian Broadcasting Company is currently using the Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform as a way to determine the extent of the flood’s impact by receiving reports directly from the citizens. They stated reason for the effort: “ABC correspondents, reporters, presenters and photographers have been covering many dimensions of the flood disaster.  However, the mainstream media cannot be everywhere at once.”

Their goals: “This Crowdmap aims to combine verified reports from government agencies and media outlets including the ABC but potentially invaluable information supplied by people like you, who simply see, hear or record incidents or situations due to the floodwaters.” They indicate that they are “particularly interested in incidents (things that “happen”) or situations which provide useful information to those affected by this disaster. This includes situations such as: Property Damage; Road and Bridge Closures;  Evacuations; Injuries and Electricity Outages.” In other words, situational awareness data.

As of writing, they had 99,769 reports filed with about 99% of them verified. (By quickly looking through the data, however, it’s easy to spot exact duplicates). The reports are broken down into categories listed below. The best part of the platform just might be the ability to receive location-based Alerts based on categories of interest, although I think one shortfall is that you can only receive them as an email. Anyone can sign up to receive alerts on the following categories:

  • Electricity Outages
  • Evacuations
  • Hazards
  • Help/Services
  • Property Damage
  • Recovery Assistance Required
  • Roads Affected
  • Schools Recovery
  • Volunteer Efforts

Again, the efficacy of this campaign will need to be studied, but the amount of reports is initially impressive. I’d be interested to know, however, if local response organizations signed up for alerts and if they did, did it provide them with any new information? Did it aid them in their response efforts? At least local officials are aware of the map: the QLD police facebook page included a link to the platform.

I’m sure there are many more examples, but I think these three give a taste of the impact social media and technology are having in crisis response and recovery, and it is especially interesting to see this unfold in a modern country with a modern response apparatus. There is a lot to learn from this event.

Four ways social media and interactive technologies are used to prepare, mitigate, and recover from disasters

Flood in Znojmo (2006) 5

Image via Wikipedia

Post by: Kim Stephens

New technologies such as social media and mobile interactive applications are starting to have an impact in the field of emergency management. The impact is not occurring in just the response phase, as has been widely reported, but also during the preparedness, mitigation and even the recovery phase as well. Here are a few recent examples:

1. Preparedness

During the preparedness phase the real challenge is to make the information compelling so that people pay attention. A few emergency managers are trying to peak the public’s interest by employing interactive game technology and by designing games for use through social media platforms.

  • This November, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, funded by a grant from FEMA and in partnership with the Electronic Visualizations Lab, the National Center for Supercomputering Applications and the Center for Public Safety and Justice, announced the development of an interactive game for children to learn disaster preparedness and response strategies. The first simulation is called: “The Day the Earth Shook” which has a focus on preparing for an earthquake, as the name implies. The players are encouraged to help two avatars build a survival kit, find all the safe and unsafe areas in their home, and learn to protect themselves.
  • Clark Regional Emergency Services, with a game set to kick off Dec. 1, is employing social media to engage adults in preparedness activities. Their game is called #12 Days Prepared. The game will include a different scenario each day for a total of 12 days. From their blog: “Game participants will be asked to answer 2 basic questions: 1. What are the initial actions you would take upon hearing this scenario? 2. How do you think the community should prepare for such an event?” Answers can be submitted through twitter, facebook, email or the blog’s comment section and earn the players raffle tickets.  A drawing at the end of the game will reveal the winners of a few modest prizes.

2. Mitigation

In October, the United State Geological Survey and the National Weather Service announced the first-of-its-kind “online interactive flood warning tool” which is being piloted in the area surrounding Georgia’s Flint River. Although this tool is currently being used primarily as an early warning system, hopefully, the information about potential threats will help the surrounding communities make better decisions with regard to zoning in order to mitigate future losses.

The Flood Inundation Mapping product is an interactive web-based tool that shows the extent and depth of flood waters over given land areas. These maps enable management officials and residents to see where the potential threat of floodwaters is the highest. Other monitoring tools that provide flood information include streamgages, which provide real time data via satellites to the USGS and NWS for many purposes, including water supply, drought monitoring, and flood warnings. Relative to real time streamgage readings, the Flood Inundation Maps illustrate where floodwaters are expected to travel based upon NWS flood forecasts.

In mitigation of another kind, against school violence as a result or consequence of bullying, Frontline SMS has a new mobile reporting tool called “bully proof“. This system was designed to allow student to send anonymous text messages to school administrators about incidents of bullying or even to report incidences of violence as they happen real-time. The software is free and open source.

3. Recovery/Response

This November, the Town of Davie, Florida announced the application of new technologies as part of  their infrastructure branch plan for response and restoration efforts in the event of a disaster such as a hurricane. The plan has two main elements: “1. the pre-scripting of response and recovery actions; and (2) the utilization of electronic project-management tools rooted in GIS.”  The project management tools consists of both a mobile damage assessment resource tool (MDART) and Command Center GIS (CCGIS).  Their application brings the following capabilities:

  • “An automated and electronic field inventory of damage, featuring easy-to-use GIS field tools.
  • Real-time visualization and mapping within the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) of the damage-assessment data collected in the field.
  • A real-time “running tally” and assessment of the extent of the damage, including real-time progress tracking of field crews, built-in and automated cost-for-replacement calculations, and the CCGIS Dashboard Toolkit.
  • Command Center incident response, decision making and immediate planning using information coming into the EOC from MDART.
  • Streamlined and electronic reporting for FEMA…
  • A transparent government toolbox featuring a mapping portal solution to make damage inventory and assessment data available to the public and media.”

It seems like the next few years will bring about many changes in the EM field with new technologies playing an ever increasing role in communications, data collection/distribution and information management. Current students majoring in EM might even consider a minor in ICT: information, communication and technology.

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