Sending Out an S.O.S


We live in an extremely connected world, with 74% of adults using Social Media. Every day we are logging into our devices to watch videos of cats, and to check if Polly really did dye her hair another ridiculous colour. It has become so ingrained in everyday life for our generation (90% of 18 – 29 year olds) that it’s almost considered abnormal to not maintain an online presence. I believe the main draw is the convenience of the Internet; connecting you to anyone, anywhere around the world. It is this convenience that makes it the ideal tool for use during emergency situations.

The Australian Government stated “Recent disaster events, in Australia and internationally, have demonstrated the importance of social media, not only in delivering vital information to the community during emergency events, but also in strengthening relationships between emergency services and Australian communities. There is also an increasing awareness of the benefits of crowdsourcing, for example, to gain critical intelligence on emergencies and natural disasters.

This got me thinking about how I use technology during these times of crisis. In order to explain this I have to tell you a little bit more about myself. I grew up in Victoria and moved to Queensland in 2008. This means I left all my old friends and family back in the cold southern state. My new home in Queensland is about an hour north of Brisbane, making for a lovely commute to Uni everyday and putting me well out of the spotlight for most events. It’s because of my geographic location that when I sat down to write this post I thought “I’ve never been involved in a Natural Disaster though…” But indirectly I think I have.

I remember using Facebook during the 2010-11 Brisbane floods to update friends and family. Although, I wasn’t directly in an effected area, I still took to Facebook to let everyone I know I was OK. This was because my family weren’t local and didn’t know how widespread the disaster was.

Great Brisbane flood of 2011. Contact for licensing.

McDonald’s Milton – Brisbane Floods by Erik K Veland is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Additionally, I remember updating my Facebook on March 8th 2013, after Police Shut down Queen’s Street Mall due to an incident with a gunman. On that day I was supposed to be walking through that section of the CBD on my way home, but I had left earlier due to a class cancellation.

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Lockdown – Police take cover & Lockdown – Evacuating civilians by Brad Wood is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Recently, I signed up to popular site Twitter (Yay for knowing every time a minor celebrity buys Starbucks) and I used it to monitor #TCMarcia and #BigWet. Obviously I am not quite that far north, so I used it to stay updated. As a newbie to the platform I found it really interesting to see how the authorities kept the public updated on their efforts and possible hazards to be cautious off. It was also interesting to see first hand accounts of the devistation some people were experiencing. Also, all the of people dangerously braving the conditions for a photo op. :/


Cyclones Lam & Marcia by NASA is licensed under CC0 Public Domain.

At the time I really didn’t consider how important that information could be to some people, nor did I even question the fact that this information was so readily available to me at the click of a button. Having taken a step back I can see that in times of crisis this information can be the difference between life and death for some people in desperate need of help. Additionally, this information can be used after the emergency situation is over to analyse how well the event was handled and to make improvements to the system.

For example, it is interesting to consider the large role Social Media played in the recent siege of Lindt Cafe. Sydney Morning Herald reported that police followed “conversations on Twitter to inform their tactical response as well as monitoring Facebook posts by the 18 men and women trapped inside the cafe.” It makes you wonder how much worse the outcome could have been without this inside intelligence.

Having reflected upon the various emergency situations that I’ve experienced in person and online; I feel confident about how I would respond to a situation. Of course this is only in terms of how I would manage it online, as I would probably also call emergency services (000) given the circumstances.

If I were to be directly involved in a disaster I would probably update Facebook first to contact my personal network of friends and family. Then, I would keep people updated about my situation on Twitter, as it’s a public format and I would be able to engage more directly with the authorities managing the situation. I would also use Twitter as a tool to stay updated on developments that could effect my situation.

That is really the extent of my experience on the topic and I hope you found some of this interesting. I will be investigating alternative emergengy communication platforms that might be useful to me in future so feel free to let me know what you like to use in the comments below? Or let me know of any new technologies you’ve heard about?

Thanks for Reading,
– M.

3 thoughts on “Sending Out an S.O.S”

  1. I really like your post. I like that you’ve covered a few different social media disasters/crisis events, well done! Also nice to see photos included from some friends of mine 🙂

    1. Thank you. 🙂 I wanted to mention a few so that I was covering a couple different dates and types of events. Wow, really? You know some of these people? That’s pretty cool (it’s such a small world).

      1. Yes, the photo of the gunman in the mall was taken from our building at work. Brad and I were in the same team at the time!

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