So far, during an overwhelming flood disaster, Calgary emergency personnel and police have performed incredibly well.
Twitter? Absolutely not!
As flooding surprised the city last Thursday, Calgary Police put its crisis management plan into action. Part of the plan included using its official Twitter account @CalgaryPolice. Providing updates, critical crisis information and engaging with residents wherever possible.
That is, until Twitter shut down the account for exceeding the daily 1,000-post limit.
Far away at Twitter head office in San Francisco, they weren’t aware of the crisis and the vital importance of the microblogging channel for reaching residents.
Experts say the company’s algorithm automatically shut down the Calgary Police account as part of its normal procedure to combat abuse, spamming and misuse.
Quick-thinking police officer, Jeremy Shaw, switched to his personal Twitter account @CstShaw to continue posting updates and critical information for residents. It was hours before the “official” police account was restored.
Twitter did not respond to numerous, initial Canadian media interview requests regarding the incident.
Because of the growing importance of Twitter during crises, criminal situations and other serious events, I hope the company reviews how it handles high volume procedures during crises in the future.
Twitter has become a critical crisis communications channel. Some would say an essential utility. Its lack of 100% reliability is a concern for crisis managers.
So far 75,000 people have been directly affected. Downtown Calgary was totally flooded and all apartments, homes and office buildings downtown were completely evacuated. Downtown will remain closed until Wednesday or later depending on floodwater levels.
Imagine the personal and business impact?
Meanwhile, Calgarians look at each other with amazement as they assess the damage and wonder how long it will be for life returns to normal in the bustling oil patch city.
Initial Social Media Crisis Lessons
Even while flooding has not yet subsided, the crisis lessons are already being talked about and noted. Here are just a few takeaways to help others using social media in a future crisis:
- Include social media in your crisis plan; recognize its limitations.
- Have a backup social media plan.
- Utilize several social media channels with multiple social media profiles as backup and support.
- Be prepared to scale up social media staff and resources immediately, even with volunteers.
- Confirm and ensure server capacity and maintain a “dark” website as a backup.
- If possible, advise social media channels of the crisis as early as possible.
- Test your social media crisis communications in advance. There’s no substitute for testing your crisis capability.
A Flood Scene Like a Hollywood Disaster Movie
After 72 hours, downtown Calgary remains deserted in my former hometown.
Completely evacuated by emergency personnel because of concerns for fire, electrical and water safety problems. Office towers and apartment buildings stick out of a lake of raging, muddy brown water created by the overflowing banks of the Bow River.
Unbelievably, the entire downtown will remain closed under an evacuation order to residents and office workers until Wednesday at the earliest. Six days after the flood disaster. That timing may be optimistic.
The fate of the renowned early July Calgary Stampede is also uncertain. A national political convention has been canceled and in the short-term several other events may be affected.
Clearly the damage repairs and clean up will take months or longer. The costs will be stratospheric and nobody has yet even tried to put a number on it.
Amazingly, no lives lost yet in Calgary and only three known fatalities in the entire southern Alberta region impacted by flooding.
No one could foresee or predict this disaster in advance. It happened so fast due to an unusually late spring melt in the mountains west of Calgary combined with record breaking rainfall. The conditions created a massive swell of high river water raging downstream and filling tributaries to the Bow River.
Massive flooding and devastation to the oil patch capital. Surrounding communities have suffered even worse.
Calgarians are resilient and determined. Like New York City, New Jersey, New Orleans, Texas, Colorado and residents in so many other disaster areas.
Other southern Albertans are still dealing with massive flooding and floodwaters are still rising downstream. They’ve already learned important disaster lessons.
When it comes to social media, residents will be even better prepared next time. Operationally, emergency personnel deserve huge credit. And social media, with a few exceptions, also performed well in this crisis.
If you found this post valuable, you may also enjoy reading my earlier post about social media during the 2010 Vancouver Stanley Cup riots. We’ve also got lots of crisis management resources in our PR Library.
If you’d like to read more about Calgary’s flood disaster, check out the resources following. I’ve included a selection of links to Calgary media, news video clips, newspaper stories and key social media sites. All filled with amazing stories and powerful visuals.
Author: Jeff Domansky
Calgary Flood Crisis: Media Coverage & Social Media Links
Calgary Newspaper Flood Coverage
With water from one end of the grounds to the other, the Stampede will go on, say officials
Chinatown hit by flooding as storm sewers back up
Calgary TV Flood Coverage
Global TV Calgary: