Q&A: Emergency 2.0 Wiki

How the Australian project is using social media to communicate during worldwide natural disasters

Australia and the rest of the world had been hit with a spate of natural disasters in the past 12 months, whereby Emergency 2.0 Wiki was born from out of the rubble.

Project leader, Eileen Culleton, spoke to Computerworld Australia about the project and the role that social media will play in the future of communications during natural disasters.

When did the Emergency Wiki start and what motivated you to start it?

The impetus for the wiki was the need to capture and leverage learnings from the use of social media during Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi, and to empower the community with knowledge of how to use social media to better prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.

This ‘Wikipedia for emergencies’ will provide practical tips for the public and guidelines, templates and tools for emergency agencies, government, schools, community agencies and businesses.

It is a voluntary initiative of the the Gov2Qld community of practice of professionals working in a number of different sectors.

Following the Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi of early 2011, the Gov2Qld group met to plan a crisis communications debriefing workshop and I presented to the group my idea of capturing and leveraging these learnings by creating an Emergency 2.0 Wiki to provide best practice advice on how to use social media and Web 2.0 in all phases of emergency management.

The draft wiki was launched for global collaborative input on 23 August this year.

What has your role been in developing the wiki and what does your team look like?

I am the project leader of the Emergency 2.0 Wiki. The working group was established to create a strategy and framework for the project, to ‘soft launch’ the wiki for global collaborative input from the emergency, government, community and business sectors and to establish wiki reference groups with global input and a steering group with national representation.

The wiki working group is made up of Gov2Qld group members volunteering their professional skills and time. Industries represented include local and state government, non-government organisations, ICT, emergency groups, the business, education and media sectors.

How does the wiki leverage social media and Web 2.0?

The engagement campaign to build a global collaborative Emergency 2.0 Wiki community was driven almost exclusively via social media. We began with a Twitter channel and campaign to start building awareness and a community of target stakeholder groups.

The blog and subsequently the wiki were launched via a ‘global online blitz’ by the working group and supported by the Gov2Qld community. This included tweeting, blogging, posting discussions on numerous LinkedIn Groups, as well as via online professional communities.

The blog also has a feed of key hashtags used by the social media emergency management sector, so that visitors can see the community conversations live in real time.

The YouTube channel includes promotional videos for the wiki itself and aims to be a library of key emergency education videos covering preparation for natural disasters. So far we have videos floods, bushfires, cyclones and hurricanes.

Which organisations have partnered with you for the project? What has the response been from the wider community?

The project is in the process of establishing alliances locally and globally, with key emergency management organisations and groups including the volunteer technical community, NGOs and other key stakeholders.

What role do you think social media will play in the future of emergency notifications?

It will be integral and critical. A resilient community empowered with the knowledge to use social media responds differently during an emergency.

Emergency service agencies are utilising the power of social media and SMS to instantly broadcast and amplify emergency warnings to the public. The multi-channel communication approach incorporates mainstream media. They monitor and actively crowdsource localised information from community agencies and the public, which they relay with geospatial information to emergency personnel on the scene.

The public are directly receiving and acting on localised, real-time emergency warning information via SMS alerts and messages to their social networks as well as the traditional channels of radio, TV and online.

They are directly accessing links to online information via a number of platforms including websites, mobile friendly sites, smartphone apps and video sharing sites as well as social networking sites. They are actively forwarding emergency agency messages to their social networks and amplifying the warnings.

Will the wiki be ready to cope with the Australian summer and the crises that can take place during this period?

The Emergency 2.0 Wiki project aims to be ready for November for the southern hemisphere summer season of floods, cyclones and bushfires, and the northern hemisphere winter season of blizzards, but it must be noted that the wiki is not an emergency warning service.

Do you hope to extend the reach of the wiki to an international audience?

As we have witnessed, disasters know no borders. The wiki will provide a global forum for sharing information about emerging technologies and how to apply them during emergencies.

As Hurricane Irene looked set to decimate the east coast of the United States, the Emergency 2.0 community rallied that weekend to provide tips for the public on how to use social media in emergencies. This included direct links to Hurricane Irene maps, apps and resources as well as emergency agencies social media accounts.

While the ‘tips for the public’ pages had ‘seeded content’, members worked tirelessly to populate the pages with extra tips for family preparedness, how to find real-time information and how to help share information as well as adding links to Hurricane Irene social media resources as they came online.

Follow Lisa Banks on Twitter: @CapricaStar

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAu

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Tags social mediasocial networkingnatural disastersEileen CulletonEmergency 2.0 Wiki

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