Tag Archives: Queensland

Research about Communicating Risk becomes a Hard Reality: HardenUp.org

Post by: Kim Stephens

Communication

Image by P Shanks via Flickr

How do you create resilient communities?  It’s a tough question. Just yesterday I sent out a tweet about preparedness and the ubiquitous fact sheets that government agencies produce. Does anyone read them? If someone does read them, do they take action, e.g. prepare a  “go-kit,” or purchase insurance, etc.? Maybe, I mused, images of disasters would help encourage people to prepare. One of my colleagues @Cherylble (Cheryl Bledsoe)  answered “@Kim26stephens, you presume a natural interest in emergency management and I would tender ppl only interested if hazard is imminent #smem”.

An imminent hazard is certainly something that spurs action. Therefore, it would seem that if the public only knew and understood their risks (e.g. the frequency of hurricanes)  then they would take the necessary steps to mitigate those risks. But the research study “Communicating Actionable Risk for Terrorism and Other Hazards” – Michele M.Wood,1,∗ ,† Dennis S. Mileti et. al., published 10 June 2011,  found that it is much more important “… to emphasize the communication of preparedness actions (what to do about risk) rather than the risk itself.” They call this type of activity “communicating actionable risk“.  Another key finding, which is highly relevant in today’s connected world, was that “households in American are most likely to take steps to prepare themselves if they observe the preparations taken by others…”. I’m effectively boiling down an entire article to one paragraph so I suggest you read it,  however, it is interesting to note their conclusion:

“Communicating preparedness actions to motivate people to act is more direct than communicating risk and hoping that people will infer that they should take actions, and then, based on their inferences, act. This is a substantial departure from theoretical perspectivies and program practices that seek primarily to communicate risks so that people might, then, infer that action-taking is warranted.”

This research has been put into direct practice in Queensland Australia, an area of the world I seem to write about weekly. I am seriously in awe of the new website put together by Green Cross Australia in partnership with a veritable alphabet soup of government agencies, volunteer organizations, research institutions and even private industry called: “HardenUp: Protecting Queensland“. They do about a million things right here, but most importantly they do communicate actionable risk and then, from within the framework of the site, encourage people to share and promote their preparedness activities in a seamless manner.  As an aside, Green Cross Australia has a focus on climate change and helping people adapt to the potential changes that could occur, such as increased natural disasters and changing sea-level.

It’s not surprising that people will react if they see others preparing. If a storm is coming and I see my neighbor nailing up plywood on windows, I’m likely to think, “Hey, that looks like a good idea.”  However, how can we make more subtle preparedness activities visible and essentially social when there’s not a storm?  You guessed it: social media.  HardenUp offers multiple chances for citizens to share how they are preparing. When users create their plan (in a really nice interface, by they way) they are asked to post what they have done to their social network.

The “tips” section is also designed for sharing. It was envisioned, in part, as a way for people who lived through major disasters to communicate what they learned. In order to get the survivors input, however, some clarifying had to be done about the name of the site.

In a message to survivors, Jelenko Dragisic, CEO of Volunteering Qld and a HardenUp partner, stated that their intention for the website was definitely not to tell people who suffered losses from last year’s major flooding events to “Harden Up,” rather their intention was simply to communicate to the segment of the population that is not prepared. He also implored these survivors, who know the dangers all too well, to share their experiences.

 Many people think they can leave it up to insurance and government bodies and emergency organisations to come to their rescue, both literally and financially. Or they believe there’s nothing individuals can do when faces with a natural disaster. But those people are wrong…being prepared can make a hell of a difference. Knowing how to get out, having emergency supplies, being informed, really can be the difference between life and death…As people who’ve had direct experience of this, I invite you to share your stories with other Queenslanders.”

User-generated tips are also linked to social media to encourage peer engagement: visitors can view all of the tips and then click the “Like” button to instantly post their favorites it to their facebook page. Peer pressure is also subtly applied throughout their site, for example,  a “ticker” runs at the bottom of every page that states  the number of preparedness actions that have been taken to date: 10,530. I love the tag “What about you?” next to the number. In other words, according to a Green Cross representative, Jeremy Mansfield: “Harden-up is not about vulnerability, but a call to action to build self-resilience.”

Although preparedness is the goal, risk awareness is one of the objectives. The site designers have incorporated a database of over 150 years worth of community-based historical disaster data.  According to Jeremy:

One of the key differences of the site we feel is the ” Information asymmetry” providing people links to knowledge that contextualise  risks, preparedness/resilience and longer term issues around adaptation etc. We think it’s the first time a site has attempted to integrate 150 years of weather history along with regional climate history & trends served up at a suburb level.

I also really like how  “HardenUp” has been built to eventually become a one-stop shop for all emergency information. For example, the “In the event” Hub is turned on if there is a crisis and will house community and authority feeds and real-time maps. There is also a tab to search for volunteer opportunities.

I covet this site. I want one in my community, and I want to help build one for every state in the US. Am I being overly effusive?

Related Links

Crowdsourcing Down Under

Post by: Kim Stephens

The Brisbane, Australia City Council has deployed a Ushahidi map in response to flooding occuring in their community.  What is Ushahidi? Watch the 2 minute video on their website, but in general the software allows for reports from anyone (the public, first responders, government agencies) to be submitted and posted to an interactive map.

For this instance of Ushahidi they are currently only displaying three categories of information: flooded roads, road closures and sandbag locations.  For example, the map above shows a pink dot for all road closures.  Brisbane City Council also has a twitter feed they are using to not only provide critical information, but also to advertise the map’s existence.  Citizens can report information about the flood by sending a tweet to the hashtag #bccroads or by filling in the form on the website. People are also clearly sending information by “@” messaging the Council via twitter. (Ushahidi has a mobile platform, however, I’m not sure if that application is being utilized for this event.)
I like how the Council replies to the reports of flooding by also reminding the citizen, as well as everyone else, about the map.

The benefit of this map, which includes highly decentralized, hyper-local information, is demonstrated  by simply clicking on one of the icons. Each blue dot represents a road closure that the user can click to obtain the full report, pictured above. This report states “Bowman Parade (road) is currently experiencing localized flooding. Please do not attempt to drive through flood waters.” The platform also allows the user to understand if the information has been verified or not, and in this case, is has been. There are 64 reports currently listed.

This isn’t groundbreaking. However, I am intrigued that a government agency has so completely embraced crowdsourced information. They understand that first responders can’t be everywhere, but citizens, armed with cell phones and an easy way to report what they are seeing, can provide critical, life-saving information for the benefit of everyone. I read a blog post just yesterday by an American first responder who  lamented that there was no great way to gather information from the crowd. I’m always a bit surprised to read posts like that, which is why I continue to write about Ushahidi and similar applications. If you are aware of any US government, local or state, that has deployed Ushahidi, let me know.

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.

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.