Tag Archives: Brisbane

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!

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.

Social Media After Action Review: Brisbane Australia

Brisbane CBD and the Story Bridge, Brisbane QLD.

Image via Wikipedia

Post by: Kim Stephens

An Independent Review was undertaken to study the use of social media by the City Council of Brisbane, Australia during the historic flooding events of January, 2011. Thanks to Patrice Cloutier  and his daily “picks” for alerting me to the story. I recommend the report be bookmarked for ready reference by any emergency management organization either already engaged in social media or considering using the medium. Another important social media case study was also recently completed by the Queensland Police Service, which I highlighted last week.  The findings are similar, but the Brisbane report does touch on a few different insights I’d like to draw attention to here.

Strategy for information flow to the public and FROM the public.

Several of the keys to the Council’s success mentioned in the report were items that I think most of us really understand and are comfortable with.

  •  It is important to have an established social media presence before a crisis occur.
  • It is important to have staff redundancy, e.g. more than one person knows and understands how to use the platforms.
  • Communications to the public via these mediums should include items such as information regarding how to stay safe, evacuation centers and routes, staging areas for relief supplies, and public relations info including details about response activities–often designed to instill confidence in the public that we are doing a good job (the latter, in my opinion, is often overly emphasized).

 But with regard to obtaining information from the public via social media, our comfort level decreases, markedly. The review of the Brisbane Council’s activities includes an entire section on how they monitored social media channels and then were able to quickly feed that information back to decision makers.

Council’s social media channels were monitored continuously and the information was provided back to the (Local Disaster Coordination Center) LDCC where appropriate. Using a system of ‘hot topics’, the most common queries from the public via social media channels were fed back hourly to the LDCC to obtain the correct responses which could then be shared publicly.

Relationship Building

Another theme throughout the report, similar to the QPS review, is the importance of relationship building with the community  “to ensure that they trusted Council as an authority in the space.” This includes everything from the tone of the postings which should be open and conversational, to the speed of answering enquiries.  This of course, can present challenges as well:

For overcoming difficulties, the main issue was the rapid speed of information flowing and managing this effectively. Due to the nature of social media, regular response times that might be found in traditional media weren’t acceptable, and it was important to streamline existing communication processes.


The report indicated that the Council has a Digital Communications Team which “devised and implemented a highly successful social media campaign to communicate vital flood information to the community.” The Digital Team was already in place pre-event and had identified four overarching objectives for their social media communications: Audience reach (raising awareness of the SM channels), information management, information sharing, and community and business mobilization. Once the crisis began to unfold they planned for four key communication areas:  evacuation center locations, waste disposal info, health and safety, and volunteering information.

Almost the instant a crisis occurs people are already asking where they can volunteer and what they can donate. Using social media channels to communicate this information seems like a natural fit, especially since quite a few of these request occur on the platforms and since people will organize to volunteer with or without you.

One of the biggest social media successes for Council involved co-ordination of volunteers from early on in the flood event and the aftermath. Council social media channels were used as the main communication tool to ask for volunteers to help in clean up efforts. On Friday 14 January around 5pm, the Lord Mayor announced that there would be Volunteering Clean-Up weekend.

By 6am the next day, more than 10,000 volunteers arrived at designated meeting points and had registered to help the community. Facebook and Twitter were used as primary means of coordinating volunteers at the volunteer areas and in the coming weeks, Councillors also used these channels to ask for help. On many occasions, Councillors asked for help from 100-250 volunteers with only 24 hours notice, and upwards of 700 showed up.

Great stuff, and some great lessons for all of us.