Emergency 2.0 Wiki proves valuable resource during Hurricane Irene

Less than a week after the fledgeling Emergency 2.0 Wiki launched for global collaborative input, the Wiki has already proved an invaluable resource in the height of a disaster.

As Hurricane Irene looked set to decimate the east coast of the United States, the Emergency 2.0 Community rallied over the 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:

How to prepare for an emergency (see table of contents below)

Family Preparedness tips included:

  • Create a Facebook account (you can make it private to share only with your family)
  • Arrange with your family that in case of emergency you will also post a message on Facebook to communicate that you are safe and where you are.
  • Use the Facebook Notes Page to put important information from your family emergency preparedness plan that you and your family can refer to as a central source eg evacuation checklist. (You choose who has access to your Notes Page)
  • Take photos of your children on your mobile phone and store them
  • Take photos of your pets and store them too.
  • Learn and practice how to send a photo with:
    • a text
    • a tweet
    • a facebook post
  • Practice this on your computer,your mobile phone, notebooks and other mobile devices

‘How to find realtime information’ included:

  • During an emergency, agencies, the media and the public use #hashtags to share information eg #flood #cyclone #earthquake #tornado
  • When a #hashtag is used, the whole world online can see the message
  • Following a hashtag gives you instant information on that emergency
  • Sometimes more than one #hashtag is used eg #tsunami, #japantsunami
  • Beware – information may not be correct or rumour (which spreads quickly online)
  • Watch for official messages from emergency agencies and the media
  • Download the Twitter app to your mobile phone to receive the messages wherever you are

In our ‘Real Time Maps’ section, we were hot on the heels of the Google Crisis Response Team, ESRI and Crisis Commons uploading their Hurricane Irene tracking maps, racing to post them as soon as we saw them promoted:

In our ‘YouTube Videos’ preparedness tips section, we added a hurricane preparedness video by the American Red Cross along with our existing video by the Brisbane City Council and the SES on how to sandbag your property:

Along with our Smart phone apps tips, such as “Make sure you have GPS enabled on your phone” we also posted the FEMA Smartphone app and the American Red Cross Evacuation Shelters app:


What to do during an Emergency

In this section we repeated most of the preparation information, but added important tips  which we also tweeted such as:

Help share emergency information

This section began with:

“If you are in an emergency and it is safe for you to do so, you can share the information publicly to warn others. You can also help by sharing emergency messages of official agencies. Examples include:”

Some examples were:


  • Send your warning message (add a #hashtag) eg “Jones Bridge flooded #irene #flood”
  • Take a photo and send that with your tweet
  • Enable GPS on your phone so that your tweets and photos are ‘geocoded’. This makes it easier for emergency agencies and the media to verify your information and pinpoint the location of the emergency.
  • Retweets “Please RT”
    • You can instantly share emergency messages by retweeting
    • To quickly retweet to your followers, press the retweet button
    • To maximise the message getting out to the world, put “RT” in front of the message, then it will act like a hashtag and everyone can pick it up.
    • If the emergency agency message doesn’t have a #hashtag add it yourself when you retweet the message


  • ‘Like’ emergency agencies and key media
  • ‘Like’ emergency messages and comment on them
  • Click on ‘Share’ to post emergency agency messages on your own profile

Save Battery Power on your mobile phone

One of the most valuable sections of the Wiki turned out to be this section. Given that during an emergency your mobile phone is your lifeline, we quickly added tips to this section (albeit for the Iphone initially) and tweeted tips.

These were retweeted by emergency service agencies as well as the general public, with great response:

We also called for and received tips from the crowd:

…which we then ‘retweeted’, incorporated into the wiki, and tweeted back out again with a link:

Emergency Recovery

How to use social media to share information and help others

Key tips we included were:

  • Share official messages and updates from emergency service agencies, government and community agencies via Twitter and Facebook
  • Add your local information to the online community maps eg “Jones Bridge closed”
  • Look for volunteer projects in your community
  • Rally your family and friends to join you in your volunteer efforts
  • Share the volunteer project messages via Twitter and Facebook

And we added the Hurricane Irene Cleanup Map produced by the Crisis Commons community using the Ushahidi tool:

We also included links to US Government agencies social media sites (on the eastern seaboard):

We also re-tweeted key messages about how to use social media in the emergency:


Early Outcomes:

  • Our Tweets were retweeted from emergency agencies and the general public
  • We received positive feedback on the usefulness of our Hurricane tips
  • The crowd responded by tweeting tips for us to add to the wiki
  • increased awareness of and traffic to the Emergency 2.0 Wiki sites
  • Increased Twitter followers
  • increased applications to join the Emergency 2.0 Wiki community, to write and edit the Wiki

Lessons Learned:

There are many! It must be stated that the US response to Hurricane Irene has raised the bar in using social media in emergencies. The actions of emergency agencies, government agencies, not for profits, the volunteer technical community, the media and the general public were impressive and inspirational.

We look forward to these learnings being incorporated into the Wiki to share with the global community.

Next Steps

The “Tips for the public” section still needs more development (eg “Save Battery Power on your mobile phone” just has tips for Iphones), so please join us and add your tips!

The “Guidelines for government, community agencies, business – how to use social media in emergencies” needs a lot of development – some sections have not even been started, so here is your chance to take a leadership role…

Please join Emergency 2.0 Wiki group on LinkedIn group – this is your gateway to developing the Wiki and joining the Emergency 2.0 Wiki community.

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