In the morning of 22 Feb. 2011, the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, was hit by a major earthquake, causing widespread destruction and close to 200 fatalities. Despite significant disruptions to communications, social media played a substantial role in disseminating first-hand information from the affected areas, repeating a pattern observed in several other recent crisis situations (such as the floods in the Australian state of Queensland during January 2011); further, they were also instrumental in organising the disaster response, as well as providing a space for observers from more or less distant locations around the globe to offer their sympathies and support. On Twitter, such responses were organised around the hashtag #eqnz, which averaged some 100 tweets per minute in the hours following the earthquake.
Building on innovative frameworks for analysing and visualising the tweet data available from Twitter, developed by the authors, this paper will examine the patterns of tweeting activity which can be observed in the aftermath of the earthquake. It will identify the key contributors to the #eqnz network and show the key themes of their messages. Emerging from this analysis, and from the other papers presented in this panel, is a more detailed understanding of Twitter and other social media as key elements in the overall ecology of the media forms used for crisis communication. Such uses point both to the importance of social media as a tool for affected communities to self-organise their disaster response and recovery activities, and as a tool for emergency management services to disseminate key information and receive updates from local communities.