Tag Archives: Colorado

Researchers Study Waldo Canyon Fire Twitter Activity

Post by: Kim Stephens

U.S. Air Force Academy Waldo Canyon Fire

U.S. Air Force Academy Waldo Canyon Fire (Photo credit: Official U.S. Air Force)

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the University of California-Irvin are currently participating in a project titled “Project Heroic”  (funded by the National Science Foundation). The overarching objective is “to better understand the dynamics of informal online communication in response to extreme events.”

As part of this project, the team turned their attention to analyzing Tweets surrounding the recent Waldo Canyon Fire, which started June 23, 2012. This fire was a significant event–the introduction to the research report summarizes the stats:

Over 32,000 residents from Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and Woodland Park, as well as several small mountain communities along Highway 24, were forced to evacuate… More than 346 homes were destroyed… U.S. Highway 24 was closed in both directions for much of the event. The Waldo Canyon Fire is the most expensive fire in Colorado State history with insurance claims totaling more than US$352.6 million dollars, according to The Gazette.

This significance was reflected in the amount of Twitter “buzz” surrounding the event as well. The research team collected over 100,000 messages that used the hashtag #Waldocanyonfire from more than 25,000 unique Twitter users. (I find it interesting that they only analyzed Twitter data, however, the ability to easily quantify and sort the information makes the platform desirable for researchers.)

They examined the data based on several factors: time of day Tweets were posted, content, who was posting (citizens or government organizations connected to the response effort) and who was following those accounts. Specifically they asked: Did these accounts have an increase in followers, and if so, what Tweeting behavior led to the greatest increase? (Not a surprise, they found that the more information an organization provides, the more people follow them.)  In terms of content, the Wordall above was used as a graphical representation of the types of information relayed by government accounts. As can be seen “evacuation” was the most often mentioned.

One thing I  found really interesting were the results of the Retweet analysis. They assumed that government information would be repeated, especially during an emergency, however, they found “this increase is largest for [local] organizations.” An aphorism often stated by the emergency management community is “All disasters are local”–Twitter is proving that statement to be more than a common saying. This also means, to me, that local organizations should learn how to use these tools–but that’s another post.

Lesson Learned

Based on their findings they drew some conclusions–which, by the way, are some of the same conclusions we in the SMEM community have noticed with only anecdotal evidence. It is quite nice to have hard numbers to back up our own observations. They found:

  • When an event occurs local organization gain large numbers of followers.
  • Establishing a social media strategy pre-event is important. Organizations should not judge attention demand for social media during non-event periods.
  • Content generation on Twitter varies in a predictable way based on the time of day. Interpreting changes in attention needs to take this diurnal cycle into account.
  • Original content tends to be produced by local organizations, while retweeted content tends to come from non-locals.
  • Low rates of directed messaging indicate a trend to use Twitter as a broadcast channel more than a conversational channel.
  • Inclusion of a URLs may show that these organizations recognize the limitations of information shared via Twitter, perhaps due to the character lengths, requiring links out to additional information.
  • Hashtag use indicates these organizations are developing a sophistication in how to participate effectively during a disaster event.

Are emergency response organizations dropping the social media “ball”?

Post by: Kim Stephens
Recently, I ran across two seemingly unrelated articles regarding disasters and social media and the thing that struck me was that first response organizations are not delivering information through social media as effectively as volunteers–some of which have virtually zero emergency management or disaster communications experience. This leads to several questions, but I do not have the answers:

  • Will response organizations rely on volunteers to curate information from now on, or will they feel the need to add staff  to complete these tasks?
  • Will the public somehow lose trust in government organizations that don’t provide timely information that seems easily obtained elsewhere?
  • Will government agencies utilize existing social media and crisis mapping tools or feel compelled to pay contractors to create unique applications? [picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=natural+gas+pipeline+explosion&iid=9734854″ src=”http://view3.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9734854/emergency-personnel-look/emergency-personnel-look.jpg?size=500&imageId=9734854″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]

The first article by Gary Oldham from the blog Wingineering, titled Twitter to the Rescue–Social Media’s Evolving Role in Disasters, provides a very good description of Twitter’s usefulness in disseminating valuable information during three recent disasters: the New Zealand Earthquake, the Colorado Wildfires, and the natural gas pipeline explosion in California. However, in most instances, response officials were “out-tweeted” by volunteers.  While acknowledging the use of social media by local public safety organizations, he points out:

“…but of course not all agencies use Twitter in this manner yet, and in some instances, may simply be too overwhelmed in the immediacy of dealing with mitigating the disaster to use social media in the evolving stages of the disaster.”

During the Colorado wildfires he mentions a handful of people, in no way related to any response organization, that curated the information from police and fire scanners–sometimes listening for hours on end, and also from other twitter feeds (e.g. offers of aid), and then tweeted or re-tweeted that information to their followers.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=pakistan+floods&iid=9759063″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9759063/further-towns-pakistan/further-towns-pakistan.jpg?size=500&imageId=9759063″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /] The other example  is from a world away in Pakistan. An article in Wired magazine titled: “Pakistan Aid Groups Route Around U.S. Military for Relief Web” describes how volunteer-created crisis maps are used more by non-governmental organizations than the military’s “connection tool” called HARMONIEweb. The author noted that most NGOs working in Pakistan were not even aware that HARMONIEweb existed much less had participated in any of its forums or “chats.”  Instead NGO’s are relying on social media curated by volunteers like Sohaib Khan, a computer-science professor at the Lahore University of Management Scientists, [who] put together a widget  called Floodmaps that relies on Google Earth and Google Maps to track the path of the flood and monitor devastation like washed-out bridges that need to be rebuilt.”

Another group called Pakreport is involved in crisis mapping and information curation and is “staffed” with “an impromptu collection of Pakistani technologist and their mostly-American academic friends.”

  • Pakreport uses the Ushahidi mapping platform to display data gathered from  SMS text messages sent to the number 3441. “[f]lood-stricken Pakistanis can find their emergency information tracked by type and location, giving official and independent aid agencies a view into the evolving landscape of people’s needs.”

Crisiscommons is also active in this disaster, as they were in the response to the Haitian earthquake. Led by co-founder Heather Blanchard, a former DHS employee, a wiki page has been employed as a “connection tool” for survivors, volunteers located in-country and volunteers located thousands of miles away. Their resources page has an exhaustive list of resources, including Pakreport and Floodmaps, that address these questions: [picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=pakistan+floods&iid=9741639″ src=”http://view4.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9741639/flood-victim-holds-water/flood-victim-holds-water.jpg?size=500&imageId=9741639″ width=”234″ height=”153″ /]

  • Where can I find out who needs my help?
  • Where can I find people to help me deliver aid?
  • Where can I find out information?
  • How do I find out if I’m about to be flooded?
  • Who should I alert/give my information to?
  • Where can I find general information out about #pkfloods?
  • Where can I search for people? (I cannot find my grandmother/relative)
  • I have been ‘found’ – who should I alert/give my status to?
  • I need food/water/supplies, how can I tell people I need something?
  • I have food/water/supplies, how can I find out where there’s a need?
  • I want to get to location x, where can I find out about the state of the roads?
  • I am observing/know the state of the roads, who should I alert/give my information to?
  • How can I find out where there are information blackspots/there is no telecomms coverage?
  • I know where the telecoms/information blackspots are, who should I give my alert/information to and how?

Tellingly, the list of resources does not include the HARMONIEweb site.
So, what’s the point?  It seems to me that the military is recreating the wheel for use in international humanitarian missions, while in the U.S., some local governments don’t seem to know the wheel exists.

The Wired article sums up this potential problem:

“U.S. forces in Pakistan have a few Web 2.0 tools of their own. But there’s a serious digital divide between the military and civilian tools. The armed forces’ efforts are pretty rudimentary, in comparison. They haven’t yet plugged in these independent Wiki creators and collaborative mapmakers — and may never.”