Twitter, Facebook act as saviours during Australia floods

Twitter, Facebook act as saviours during Australia floods

Queensland's emergency services and the people took advantage of the versatility and robustness of the social media to prepare for and combat disaster, said Axel Bruns, associate professor of the Queensland University of Technology.

"Twitter and Facebook were both used extensively throughout the floods - by emergency services such as the Queensland police... and by tens of thousands of individual citizens to warn or to help one another," Bruns said.

"Twitter was more effective at spreading items of information widely and rapidly, but Facebook proved more useful in providing detail and coordinating activities," Bruns commented, according to a Queensland statement.

Bruns added that the social media -- often criticised as dealing largely with trivial matters -- emerged as a full-fledged disaster response mechanism, and probably helped to save lives.

"You could see how quickly Queensland police and Brisbane Council adapted to what was happening on Twitter and Facebook."

For example, the hash tag, #qldfloods, used on Twitter was spontaneously accepted as a primary source for information by public, police and emergency services.

At the peak of the Brisbane floods, the number of tweets rose to 1,200 an hour during daytime, before falling away to their normal night-time lull. Tweets also surged during the Toowoomba flood peak, as communities turned to them for vital information.

"When the RSPCA's (Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) shelter was threatened by flood waters, they used social media to identify people willing to take in animals, and received an overwhelming response - they ended up turning volunteers away."