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UKFB Staff Blog: The Importance of Twitter as a Tool for Flooding Events

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This month our marketing executive, Katherine MacBeth, discusses the growing importance of Twitter in the role of flooding emergencies throughout the world.

Firstly let’s take a look at the facts. There are approximately 1 billion accounts registered on Twitter, with 232 million active users last month alone. In August of this year Twitter recorded their maximum number of tweets per second at 143,199, and when the company floated on the New York Stock Exchange this month, shares closed at $44.90, up more than 73% from their initial price.

I could continue with surprising and interesting facts that hold figures in the millions, or even billions. I won’t. The interesting and important point for me is the genuine power Twitter holds both as a real time communication tool, and also as a reflective model for organisations when considering their response to disaster events like flooding. 

The event

During flooding in Queensland, Australia this January, the Twitter hash tag #qldfloods was spontaneously accepted as a primary source of information by the public, police and emergency services.  It was the use of this hash tag by local police that spurred on the acceptance of it as a valuable and trusted stream of information. The hash tag allowed both individuals and organisations to easily and efficiently source both relevant advice and vital event information (Read more on this here http://www.cci.edu.au/about/media/social-media-vs-the-floods )

As recently as this September, Twitter proved crucial again in playing the role of the key information source for both those on the ground and those first responders involved with the devastating flooding event in Colorado. (for an interesting look at this read this article http://blogs.denverpost.com/ostrow/2013/09/16/social-media-plays-key-role-in-co-flood-coverage/16485/)

We have known for a long time that when events happen in the real world, the shared experience is on Twitter and we want to create an ability to curate events

Dick Costolo
Twitter chief executive, September 2012

Expanding on the use of the hash tag to follow events as they happen, Twitter have now recognised the power of these ‘real-time’ conversations by creating a new custom timeline feature. This lets users share collections of tweets, without relying on the hashtag system. Relating this to a flooding event, the timeline application will allow news networks or local community flood action groups to create their own timeline around events, with local users able to access this for an up to date and constant stream of relevant event information.

Closer to home we can also see the valuable role Twitter played in the St Jude storm last month. Personally, when planning my journey to work from Bristol that blustery Monday morning, my first point of reference was Twitter and the #ukstorm stream. A look at http://tagboard.com/ukstorm, which tracks the social media response as a whole to the event, makes for an interesting visual and reflective story board of events.

The response

We are now able to look back and see how, during the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011, organisations took the initiative to make the most of the tweets being exchanged.  By analysing the different Tweet locations, a geographical analysis could be produced. This proved crucial in helping local people and organisations identify those communities that were in the most need of urgent help.

The unexpected

A different way of looking at the response to a disaster event like flooding is one that an insurance company in Toronto took earlier this year. Working with a partner they made use of the real time data on Twitter to identify those properties and locations that may have suffered more damage than others. Insurance adjusters could then use this data intelligently when planning and prioritising their response to customers. Read more on this interesting use of the tool here: http://www.brightplanet.com/2013/09/using-social-media-data-to-help-in-a-flood/

The future

We can now look at Twitter, and of course other social media platforms, as an important source of information when preparing for future flooding events. As I have explored, the information Twitter provides can prove essential for emergency services. It also provides a more informed response for those affected communities, both during the event, and I believe for future events also.

In the last week the Environment Agency have continued to embrace the power Twitter can offer them as an essential source of information to those at risk of flooding, via new Twitter Alerts. These alerts will be updates with time-sensitive critical information related to the unfolding event and coming directly from the Environment Agency straight to an individual’s handheld device or computer. https://twitter.com/envagency/alerts

An individual in a flooding scenario now has the ability to not only follow alerts directly from the EA for up to date advice, but they can also construct their own custom stream of information. This stream could include the Met Office for weather updates, the Highways Agency for travel information and even their own local community flood action group. The opportunity to use Twitter to create personalised instant event streams is only going to increase and with this hopefully a more informed individual response to increasing flooding emergencies.

Don't forget to keep up to date with all of our news, you can find us on Twittter - @UKFloodBarriers

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