Using social media during an emergency

Why is social media important?

Social media is an important tool for delivering vital information to the community during emergency events and strengthening relationships between emergency services and communities.

Demographic information shows that social media is not just a tool for the young. For example, Facebook has 12 million users in Australia (both on desktop and mobile) and 9 million use it on a daily basis, which is 39% of the population. 30% of these users are 35 to 49 years old and the fastest growing age group is 50+.

It is also an important channel for members of the public who want to help. If used appropriately, social media is an effective way for the public to contribute to the emergency response.

Finding real-time emergency information via social media

There are a range of social media platforms commonly used to provide real-time information during an emergency.

Please remember that social media should be used in addition to radio, TV, websites, newspapers and text messages for emergency information.

Twitter

TasALERT and Tasmanian emergency services use Twitter to issue warning and emergency information in real time.

  • Download the Twitter app for smartphones or tablets to receive these messages wherever you are.

Hashtags on Twitter

  • During an emergency, government, the media and the public could use #hashtags, e.g. #bushfire #storm #flood #tsunami #earthquake #landslide.
  • Sometimes more than one #hashtag is used, e.g. #bushfires, #Hobartbushfires.
  • Following a hashtag gives you instant information on that emergency.
  • Beware - information may not be correct or it could be rumour (which can spread quickly online).
  • Watch for official messages from TasALERT and the emergency services.

Twitter Alerts

Twitter Alerts are tweets published by select official sources during an emergency that contain up-to-date information relevant to an unfolding event, such as public safety warnings and evacuation instructions. Alerts will appear highlighted on your personal timeline and are instantly sent to your device as a notification.

To set up Twitter Alerts:

  • Go to the Alerts setup page for the organisation you wish to receive Alerts from (e.g. twitter.com/TasALERT/alerts).
  • If you're not already logged in, sign in with your Twitter account; if you don't already have an account, you will be prompted to sign up for one.
  • If you wish to receive Alerts via text messages, enter or confirm your current phone number and activate Twitter text messaging to start receiving Alerts as text messages.
  • If you have the official Twitter app downloaded on your smartphone or tablet, you will start to receive Alerts as push notifications.

More information on Twitter Alerts.

Facebook

TasALERT and Tasmanian emergency services use Facebook to issue warning and emergency information in real time.

  • 'Like' the key agencies in Tasmania to ensure you receive their posts.
  • On the agencies' pages, click on the 'Liked' button, and select 'Get Notifications' to ensure you receive all of their posts.
  • Download the Facebook app for smartphones or tablets to receive these posts wherever you are.

Using social media to provide support

The best way to help using social media is sharing emergency messages from official sources, such as TasALERT and the emergency services. If you are impacted by an emergency and it is safe for you to do so, you can also share information.

Sharing via Twitter

Retweeting official information on Twitter

  • You can instantly share emergency messages by retweeting.
  • To quickly retweet to your followers, press the retweet button.
  • If the TasALERT or emergency services message doesn't have a #hashtag, you can add one yourself when you retweet the message.
  • If the message doesn't have the time, you should add it before retweeting the message. For example, if it is 10.00am and the original tweet was sent 10 minutes ago, you need to state the time as 9.50am. This is important to ensure that the media and the community are acting on the most up-to-date, accurate information.

If sharing your own emergency information on Twitter, remember to:

  • Add a hashtag, e.g. "Richmond Bridge flooded at 4.10pm #tasfloods".
  • State the time, e.g. "Bridge Road flooded at 4.30pm #tasfloods". This is important as your tweet may be retweeted hours later, by which time the road could have been reopened.
  • Enable location services on your Twitter account so that your tweets and photos are 'geocoded'. This makes it easier for emergency services to verify your information and pinpoint your location if necessary.
  • Take a photo and send that with your tweet if appropriate. Geocoded photos also help the media share the warnings as it enables them to quickly verify the image before circulating it.

Sharing via Facebook

  • 'Like' emergency messages from TasALERT and emergency services and comment on them.
  • Click on 'Share' to post emergency messages on your page.

Managing a Facebook page

There are some important risks and issues to consider if you are contemplating setting up or using a special interest or business account to contribute to the official emergency response.

Most importantly, you must manage your page appropriately so that it does not interfere with emergency response operations.

Things to avoid:

  • Inaccurate information. It is vital that information is verified before it is posted.
  • Contradicting information that is already available from an official source.
  • Creating unrealistic expectations of the page. The public will be reliant on information in an emergency, so it is important to have the infrastructure to support demand.
  • Creating "call to actions" that may be at odds with emergency services' priorities or that put people in danger.

Key issues to consider:

  • What does the page aim to achieve?
  • What resources are required for it to be successful?
  • How often can/will I need to update the page?
  • Will I be able to keep up with demand for information?
  • Will I have the capacity to respond to people who engage with the page?
  • How will I approach potential accuracy issues?
  • How will I communicate with official sources?
  • How can I achieve my aims without causing a disruption to emergency services or those affected by the emergency?

Recruiting volunteers via social media

Social media has been very effective at mobilising volunteer efforts during emergencies. There are some risks associated with engaging members of the public as volunteers that must always be considered:

  • insurance protection
  • liability issues
  • ensuring people have appropriate experience and training and their skills are matched to their tasks
  • providing appropriate support for volunteers.

The best approach is to direct volunteers to an official volunteer organisation. During emergencies, Volunteering Tasmania registers those offering their support and assists emergency organisations in accessing those registered volunteers by:

  • Collecting accurate, up-to-date data on those who have expressed an interest to volunteer.
  • Engaging with disaster response and recovery agencies' requests for volunteers and refer registered volunteers to the relevant agency.
  • Referring non-volunteering callers to approved relevant agencies specialising in managing such offers.
  • Promoting safety and wellbeing of all volunteers in the community.

For official information on volunteering, follow Volunteering Tasmania on Facebook.

During an emergency, information about the most appropriate volunteer organisations will be provided via TasALERT.