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.

One response to “Queensland Flood Event: Leveraging Technology During a Crisis

  1. Pingback: 5 things we can learn from Queensland Police social media | Digital skills for emergencies and resilience

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s