Social Media for Increased Resilience and Safety: Technology to Help Communities Cope with Disasters

A plenary panel discussion will take place on Sat, 2 July 2011, 3.40pm – 4.50pm.

New Farm during Brisbane floods Jan 2011Recent severe weather events such as floods, bushfires and cyclones, but also natural events, such as the earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, have devastated the lives of many people in the Asia-Pacific region. The Brisbane floods cost Brisbane City Council $440 million (Vogler, 2011). This bill is said to have been much higher, if it was not for great levels of self-initiated and peer-to-peer volunteer support that quickly unfolded, much of which was swiftly orchestrated and facilitated in a networked fashion through social media and mobile applications (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) without the traditional central control. This technology plays a key role in both improvisation and recovery in natural disasters and times of crises.

This panel will discuss new technology and new technological practices aimed at helping communities cope with disasters and crises. The discussion is informed by the recent experience of the Queensland and Brisbane floods in January 2011. Some of the questions to be discussed include:

  • What strategies do people use to stay informed during times of crises and identify what information is relevant and can be trusted?
  • How do they traverse between official and non-official channels?
  • How is technology employed to cope, improvise, volunteer or seek help and advice?
  • In what ways does vital information spread from social media to the non-users of technology?
  • How do people improvise when the technical infrastructure fails?
  • What are the lessons learnt from adverse situations in order to ‘bounce forward’ rather than just ‘bounce back’?


Dr Jean Burgess, ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, is one of the Chief Investigators of the ARC funded study, Mapping Online Publics. Jean will present an overview of their analysis of the Queensland floods (#qldfloods) and Christchurch earthquake (#eqnz) on Twitter.

Ben Hamley will share his experience leading a team of highly motivated designers and programmers that set up in a rapid response to the Queensland floods. In an inspiring effort the team set up their site in less than 48 hours, coordinating design and development volunteers across five continents working 24/7.

Alan Hoban is the Manager of Water by Design, a capacity building program that supports the uptake of water sensitive urban design in South East Queensland. He will report on the Flood of Ideas initiative that is gathering diverse and creative ideas for how we could plan and respond to floods and natural disasters in our community.

James Kliemt is a Senior Digital Media Officer with the Queensland Police Service, and was closely involved with QPS’s social media activities during the 2011 Queensland flood crisis. He will share his experience from that crisis, and discuss the next steps for the use of social media by emergency authorities.

Ben Somerville is an Industry Solutions Architect working for Esri Australia, the nation’s leading GIS and location intelligence specialists. Ben has over 15 years’ experience working with Esri’s geospatial technology and recently headed up a team of 15 technical specialists to deliver one of the most compelling examples of how GIS is being used to deliver wholesale social change. He will share his experience and insights into the recent flood and cyclone crises discussing how social media feeds were visually represented using sophisticated  mapping technologies.

The panel will be chaired by Associate Professor Axel Bruns, ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, Queensland University of Technology.