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Patterns of Talk on Twitter during the Queensland Floods (Talk about Disasters 2012)

Talk about Disasters 2012

Patterns of Talk on Twitter during the Queensland Floods

Frances Shaw, Jean Burgess and Axel Bruns

  • 25 June 2012 – Talk about Disasters workshop, Griffith University, Brisbane

New Presentations and Publications on Twitter and Blog Research

Time for another quick news roundup. Following on from the ANZDMC 2012 conference in Brisbane, where Jean Burgess and I presented our research into the use of Twitter during the 2010/11 Christchurch earthquakes, there were another few follow-up presentations of our research on social media and crisis communication.

First, I flew down to Melbourne to run a workshop on social media and disaster resilience together with Chris Fisher from the Queensland state Department for Community Safety, as part of the Disaster Resilient Communities conference. I’ve now published my two presentations from the workshop (slides + audio); they’re both online here.

Social Media in Disasters (and a Call for PhD Students)

I’m still blogging somewhat selectively from the Australia New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management conference, given that some of the presentations here really are well outside my own research area. I’m here, though, because I’m presenting a paper with my QUT colleague Jean Burgess on our research into the use of Twitter following the 2010/11 earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand. The presentation is below (with audio to come soon, hopefully), and the full paper is also online.

This research is also associated with a new ARC Linkage-funded three-year research project on “Social Media in Times of Crisis” which we’re undertaking along with the Queensland Department for Community Safety and the Eidos Institute. There’s a PhD scholarship attached to this project, and we’re now looking for expressions of interest for this position, to commence shortly: students will be embedded with the DCS in Brisbane to develop, deploy, and evaluate enhanced strategies for the Department’s use of social media; they will also need to develop connections to other relevant emergency and media institutions. Students with strong connections to the local Brisbane and south-east Queensland community would be ideal. If you’re interested, please get in touch: a.bruns [at]

Towards Integrated Information Management during Crises

The next speaker at ANZDMC 2012 is Chris Fisher from the Queensland Department of Community Safety, who presents DCS’s ‘All Hazards’ approach to integrated information management. This is especially important in the context of disasters, in order to accelerate the provision of essential information to stakeholders and the public. But this is limited by existing barriers and silos – and it cannot simply be addressed through better information technology.

Disasters do not respect borders or organisational boundaries – and to address this, ‘All Hazards’ became an informational problem-solving exercise. It was an important recognition of ‘information’ as an independent entity in the disaster management process. The programme delivers planning and intelligence, decision support, resource management and coordination, public engagement, and shared situational awareness, and builds on a foundation of information exchange and interoperability.

A Systems Theory View of Disaster Response

OK, after a brief power outage (why are there never enough outlets in conference facilities?), I’m back to blog the afternoon sessions at ANZDMC 2012. We begin with a presentation by Paul Salmon, who will apply systems theory to the disaster response context.

Disaster preparation, response and recovery processes are complex sociotechnical systems. They have shorter and longer timeframes, and small events can have huge implications well down the track. This means that systems theory models can be applied to the study of these processes: complex systems comprise various levels (relating to the various stakeholders in the process), and systems depend on the quality of their vertical integration between these levels, providing a bidirectional feedback system.

The Queensland Floods Response in Ipswich

The next speaker at ANZDMC is Paul Pisasale, the Mayor of Ipswich (which was also severely affected in the 2011 south-east Queensland floods, of course). Paul is currently in re-election mode, so he starts with a bit of a sales pitch for Ipswich.

He notes the problems of talking to the media during the crisis: while the disaster management team might have known what a prospective flood level of 18m meant, the media largely didn’t, and this had the potential of causing substantial stress for the community – so there needed to be clear communication strategies for getting the right message across. Also, decision-making needed to be team-based, rather than being driven by titles and positions.

Managing the Brisbane Floods Disaster

Over the next couple of days, I’m at the Australia New Zealand Disaster & Emergency Management Conference (ANZDMC), where Jean and I will present our research into the uses of Twitter in the Christchurch earthquake later today. We begin with a keynote from Assistant Commissioner Peter Martin from the Queensland Police Service, though, who was District Disaster Coordinator for the Brisbane-based response to the 2011 floods.

From late November 2010, Queensland experienced some very heavy rain, and many rivers across the state reached record flood levels, this was worsened by Cyclone Tasha in north Queensland by the end of December. On 10 January, Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley experienced devastating flash flooding, and early in February Cyclone Yasi hit towns in far north Queensland. This also had substantial effects on statewide infrastructure. 98% of the state were affected.


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