February 1st 12:15pm

Communities Using Social Media to Partner in Disaster Response

Keri K. Stephens (UT Austin), Dhiraj Murthy (UT Austin), Brett W. Robertson (University of South Carolina)

Hurricane Harvey offers many lessons for disaster response, especially when trying to better understand the role of social media and communities. A common misunderstanding is that official emergency response organizations have the resources to manage social media and respond when people share calls for help.  As part of our team’s National Science Foundation funded project, we identified innovative ways social media platforms were used to rescue people, as well as provide much needed information updates.  In this presentation, we will share four exemplars illustrating the breadth of social media being used today as well as how emergency responders effectively partnered with community members.  1. An Emergency Response District effectively partnered with a Community Emergency Response Team Volunteer to respond to social media requests for information and help.  2. A top leader in a school’s parent-teacher association used her Facebook contacts to get food donated to feed the National Guard.  3. A running club used social media and various mobile apps to work with the National Guard to help them navigate the streets and rescue people.  4. A neighborhood used Nextdoor to track who had evacuated and who needed rescue. Together these stories open an important dialogue for Texas around the role that community members can and should play when disasters strike.  They also reveal the breadth of social media used today, ranging from Twitter, Facebook, Nextdoor, WhatsApp, WeChat, SnapChat, and Instagram, and the role of mobile apps like Zello and even shared GoogleDocs. 

February 2nd 12:15pm

Innovations in Preparedness: A Successful Wildfire Drill in Texas with Community Participation

Keri K. Stephens (UT Austin), Brigid Shea (Travis County Commissioner), Will Boettner (Wildfire Specialist, Travis County Fire), Pete Martinez Jr. (Community Association President)

Imagine being able to have an entire community knowledgeable of evacuation routes and ready with their preparedness kits before a wildfire threatens them.  While emergency responders regularly conduct practice drills and even scenario plan, the affected communities are rarely included in these exercises. In this workshop, our team (including a firefighter, community member, a County Commissioner, and academic) shares a successful wildfire drill where over 100 community members, 20 emergency responders, and 15 researchers participated. Members of the community received a text message alert for the wildfire drill, got into their cars—with  their pets—on a Saturday morning in the Spring of 2019, and evacuated to one of two destinations. Once they arrived safely, they completed a survey about their experience, and had a community celebration.  During the workshop/panel we will share our planning and execution details, discuss the lessons we learned, and share the results from the survey data that served to evaluate the drill and explained some of the reasons people were motivated to participate.  All participants will receive copies of our documents with hopes that this will spark interest around Texas for us to encourage communities to get involved. Research studies around the globe have shown that even though it is time-consuming, involving communities in actual disaster planning improves preparedness.  While the planning for this event was extensive, by involving community block champions to disseminate the preparedness and drill information, this community is now much more prepared when they are threatened. (Photo Credit: Will Boettner, Travis County Fire)

February 3rd 12:15pm

Moving Flood Preparedness and Education Forward for Texas

Keri K. Stephens, Nancy Carlson, Kendall Tich (UT Austin)

Floods impact all parts of Texas and they are our most costly disaster. Yet surprisingly, there are very few systematic, evaluated programs focused on flood preparedness.  While many people have heard of NOAA’s program Turn Around Don’t Drown, and organizations like FEMA provide information on flood insurance and community incentive programs, we still struggle to help people plan and take protective actions for floods.  In this presentation, our team shares the early results from research conducted by The University of Texas Moody College of Communication in partnership with the Texas Water Development Board. Specifically we share a model that depicts the complexity involved in identifying audiences to receive flood education and their varying needs.  For example, urban flooding is quite different from riverine or coastal flooding, and flash floods require different forms of communication than advance-notice hurricanes.  We also discuss the particular need for flood education in colonias and the key vulnerability flood impact indicators.  We highlight the unique aspects of several programs in Texas that focus on flood education and communication such as Harris County Thrives, The San Antonio Flood Emergency SAFE System, and ATX Flood Safety.  We also share some exemplars at the national and international levels. We hope this discussion will raise awareness of both the great ideas developed in our state as well as key gaps in understanding how to communicate about flood preparedness in Texas.   (Photo credit: Houston Police Department)