Digitally empowered communities workshop


4 April 2019

Workshop takes a closer look at the role of digitally empowered communities during disaster events


Social media has become a powerful tool for supporting collective community responses after a disaster event. It provides a platform through which official and unofficial information can be shared, and volunteer groups can be co-ordinated.

By way of example, crisis-affected communities are now able to collaboratively organise their own crisis information, such as in community-run disaster Facebook pages and crisis maps. Digitally empowered local citizens can now also rapidly mobilise into a surge capacity of on-the-ground volunteers, as was the case with the Student Volunteer Army. However, the dynamic nature of social media, and changes to how it is used by digitally empowered online communities and volunteer groups, poses a number of challenges for emergency management professionals.

In order to address these challenges, a Social Media and Digital Communities workshop was held on Friday 22 March 2019 at the Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (WREMO). The workshop was designed and led by Dr Abi Beatson, who heads the Emerging Technologies research project for Resilience to Nature’s Challenges. The workshop provided an opportunity for emergency management professionals to become acquainted with some of the latest research into the use of social media by crisis-affected communities, and to discuss their experiences and challenges with others in their field.

As Dr Beatson explains, “A central objective of the workshop was to provide emergency management professionals with a hazard-event scenario that facilitated discussion around the expected social media and digital volunteer responses during a disaster event. The scenario event decided upon was a Magnitude 7.5 earthquake near Milford Sound. This earthquake scenario facilitated discussion around the expected community responses on Twitter, and on community-led Facebook pages. It also supported discussion around the potential impact of the use of Facebook Live during this type of disaster event, and included rapidly emerging technologies such as Zello, and Facebook Disaster Maps. The earthquake scenario also included discussion around the potential responses from digitally empowered volunteer groups, such as the Student Volunteer Army, and from international crisis mapping communities. We also included the deployment of crowdsourcing platforms – it ended up that there was a lot to talk about.”

Those attending the workshop included representatives from the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management (MCDEM), GNS Science, Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (WREMO), Wellington City Council (WCC), Massey University, Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ), University of Canterbury, Canterbury CDEM Group, and the Waimakariri District Council. A panel was also created to support the development of the hazard-event scenario, including panel members from the Joint Centre for Disaster Research, Eagle Technology, and various CDEM Groups.

The workshop utilised Dr Beatson’s researchconcerning the use of social media to support resilient capabilities within a crisis-affected community. As she explains, “The workshop was an important next step in my work – getting my research off the paper it was written on, and turned into a practical resource for emergency professionals.”

If you would like more information about this workshop, or are interested in attending one yourself, please contact Dr Abi Beatson at .

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