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Use of Twitter in Disaster Rescue: Lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey

Authors: Volodymyr Mihunov*, Louisiana State University, Nina Lam, Louisiana State University, Lei Zou, Texas A&M, Zheye Wang, Louisiana State University, Kejin Wang, Louisiana State University
Topics: Hazards and Vulnerability, Communication, Applied Geography
Keywords: Twitter, social media, Hurricane Harvey, flooding, rescue, online survey
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Despite the increasingly prominent role of social media in disaster events, studies analyzing its use in rescue operations remain scanty. Hurricane Harvey hit Texas with unprecedented rainfall and flooding in 2017 and was marked by a widespread use of social media for rescue requests. We conducted a survey of 195 Twitter users in Houston and surrounding communities who had requested for rescue during Harvey. The objective was to investigate our targeted group’s socioeconomic and flood exposure characteristics, reported effectiveness of Twitter, and lessons learnt or suggestions made for its use in future rescue missions. Survey revealed that those requesting rescue on Twitter were better educated, employed (80%), and homeowners (81%). Majority of them were flooded (87%), but remained satisfied with current location and did not consider moving. Calling relatives and friends for rescue was most responsive and yielded higher assistance-provided rate than Twitter. Our respondents found Twitter helpful, but identified issues such as not knowing when volunteers had received their requests or would send help. They suggested promoting Twitter accounts and hashtags that accept emergency requests. This study provides baseline information and actionable suggestions for first responders, community managers, and resilience practitioners to improve future rescue missions.

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