Reporting Disasters : Police PR and social media Reply

Queensland police media had thirty nine million Facebook hits in twenty four hours during the flood crisis.

Social media “saved us”, according to Queensland Police Media Executive Director,  Kym Charlton.

“That equates to someone looking at  our Facebook site 450 times every second”, she said.

“If that had happened on our [own] server, it would still be crashed,” she said.

Police media operated as an information nerve centre during the emergencies, employing 25 staff organising four to five major news conferences each day.  They produced a Twitter tweet every ten minutes. Police media began “mirroring” material on the Facebook page because they knew it wouldn’t crash.

Local governments were loading things like flooding maps and storm surge maps onto their websites and everyone would rush to look at their information and their website would crash, leading to incredible anxiety in the community….they were trying to work out whether their homes would be affected and they couldn’t get it….the beauty of Facebook is this incredibly robust platform on which to get information out.

Meanwhile, people isolated in the disaster areas were charging their iphones on their car batteries and logging on.

We had a suprising amount of feedback from people who were sitting stranded on the side of the road in cars stuck in flood waters. People who were isolated in houses that were flooded in. People in the bathrooms as Cyclone Yasi went overhead. They were logging into our Facebook page and watching live press conferences about their situation.

Disaster management was “about the old and the new”. There were  generations who relied on battery powered radios and others with smart phones.

I was surprised by the number of people who contacted us after the event and said, “Your Facebook page was a lifesaver!”

Facebook and Twitter also gave mainstream journalists instant access. “They were all over the state trying to cover the story … With live streaming on the Facebook page rural reporters were able to sit in on live news conferences being held in Brisbane”. The continuously updated Facebook page allowed Media unit staff to get an overview of what was going on. “Other government departments, even the Bureau of Meteorology were getting situational awareness of the situation”

The Media unit went from 12,000 Facebook “likes’ before the flooding to a peak of 165,000 “likes”. The police hired three social media “techos” to  “help make stuff work”.

The Media Unit used crowd sourcing; information supplied by the public. “We were getting feedback from people on the ground telling what had just happened”.

But what of inaccuracies getting back into the system?

When you get a tweet telling your there is an elephant walking down the street, you say…Well right!

When four people tweet you and one of them sends you a photograph, you might want to check the Zoo!


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