The HEROIC (Hazard, Emergency Response, and Online Informal Communication) Project Team is a collaborative research team comprised of individuals at the University of Colorado -- Colorado Springs and the University of California - Irvine. They recently released a study of the Waldo Canyon Fire which occurred in late June 2012 in the Colorado Springs area of Colorado. This particular fire impacted more than 32,000 residents and resulted in more than $352 million in insurance claims. From a social media perspective, there were more than 100,000 messages from more than 25,000 Twitter users.
In this study, they found a variety of lessons learned about the use of Twitter during an emergency and disaster. Those within the emergency management community active in social media have long held that Twitter allows certain types of communication -- particularly during disasters-- that are not easy to do via traditional means; however, scientific analysis has been limited with anecdotal evidence receiving the lion's share of attention. That is why research from HEROIC is so interesting and applicable.
The following lessons are of the most interesting and applicable:
- Original content tends to be produced by local organizations, but is most often retweeted by non-locals
- Inclusion of URLs may show that response organizations recognize the need to have additional information available outside of Twitter (due to the limitations of 140 characters)
- Organizations should not judge attention demand for social media during non-disaster events
- Local organizations gain a large number of followers immediately after a disaster
- Highly active government organizations gain the most followers (relative to pre-disaster counts)
These types of findings in many ways validate the antecdotal observations of many users. Ultimately, emergency management organizations can significantly benefit from the use of Twitter during disasters. Be active, be engaged, and be relevant. Those are the keys to success.