social media and disaster management

Hurricane Yasi makes landfall on Queensland

During unprecedented times in Queensland, Australia, the police service’s social media performed unparalleled deeds, providing a case study of social media and disaster management in the process.

Disaster struck during a period of 90 days in the beginning weeks of 2011 in the form of flash floods and three separate tropical cyclones. Over 90% of the state was disaster-declared.

But in what was arguably “the most difficult period of natural disasters in the history of Queensland,” a new hero emerged in social media. In their ground-breaking case study titled “Disaster Management and Social Media,” the Queensland Police Service heralded the ability of social media to communicate and disseminate essential information when the community was in need.

The social media trajectory

Beginning with round 8,000 likes when the first tropical cyclone hit in late December 2010, the number of followers quickly doubled within two weeks as people turned to social media to receive timely updates as the resulting rain resulted in significant floods. Then, on January 10th, an instant inland tsunami occurred followed by floods in major Queensland cities. Within three days, the number of Facebook likes increased ten-fold to 160,000.

The story behind the Queensland police service’s success

What explains this spike in the police service’s followers? The answer is two pronged. First, the Queensland Police Service actively used their Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media outlets to give updates as they occurred, provide live video streaming, and “mythbust” rumors in the mass media and community. The police service wasn’t afraid to utilize social media, and actually “instinctively gravitated towards the social media channels because they were clearly the fastest and best way to distribute important public safety information.”

The second reason the police service’s social media took off was because of social media’s changing role in how people receive and consume news. In the past, people would have had to rely on mass media like television or radio stations. However, social media allowed the police service to communicate directly with a large population almost instantly. And, for followers on Facebook, the elimination of the filter of mass media was invaluable.

Social Media and Disaster Management: Lessons Learned

So, during one of the most trying times of the Queensland’s history, the police service was able to successfully harness social media to provide the community an invaluable resource. A similar situation developed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy earlier this year as well, with the New York Fire Department utilizing social media to provide disaster information and relief. If these cases have a lesson, it’s that during times of need, social media is performing a deed that ultimately leads to better communication and saved lives.