Web/Social Media Metrics Reports: Hurricane Irene and Major Flooding

It’s been an eventful few weeks in my neck of the woods. Let’s recap:

1.) Aug. 19: Thousands of motorcycle riders paid tribute to 9/11 with a massive ride through Northern Virginia, including Fairfax Co., causing major communications needs for commuters.

2.) Aug. 23: A once-in-a-lifetime earthquake strikes and rattles Virginia.

3.) Aug. 25-29: Hurricane Irene.

4.) Sept. 8-9: Remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dump 12-15 inches of rain in Fairfax creating flash floods, washed out roads, destroyed bridges and evacuated (then flooded) communities.

Through all of these examples, we relied heavily on social media to engage our public on these key events happening in our community. Communicating during emergencies (or big incidents like a motorcycle ride) was the primary reason/justification for embarking down the social media road in 2008. We’ve remained true to our purpose and mission. Hundreds of combined photos, tweets, blog posts, comments, replies and listening to our community yielded positive results as we successfully communicated during all of these incidents.

We had already identified a need for a new way to share emergency info rather than simply updating our .gov website. Twenty minutes after our new Emergency Information Blog was approved at a key committee meeting, the room I was in with my fellow committee members shook due to the earthquake.

Guess we needed that blog a day earlier!

We decided with Hurricane Irene on our doorstep to launch the new blog earlier than we planned, which was perfectly fine and, in hindsight, the right move. We needed it as our Joint Information Center team worked multiple 12-hour shifts. The blog became our central hub to communicate while our other social platforms worked with it very well.

I’ve published two metrics reports to share our experiences through raw numbers for the hurricane and flood. I invite you to review the numbers and, for those who may still have some doubts about this social media thing, see how powerful it is to publish information on platforms people already use and in ways people are familiar with such as blogs.

It’s one thing to use social media tools, it’s another to take a step back after a major incident and digest what’s happened online through quantitative and qualitative means.

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David Reinbold

Hey, Greg! Thanks for your post! I think it’s great that Fairfax County is using social media and the Web to engage with residents and keep them updated.

Marian Doucette

Thanks for sharing, Greg. The metrics reports are most insightful and can assist many communities in examining how well prepared they are for communicating with their citizenry during an emergency.

On August 21st, 2011 a F3 tornado blew in from Lake Huron and laid a destructive path right through the heart of our County seat. Heritage buildings, homes and the historic square surrounding one of our main County data centres all experienced heavy damage. While the emergency teams are to be commended for their quick response, the one thing that was lacking was communication.

During the initial hours and days, radio was the most consistent means of gaining information about where to go, what to do, and what services were available. Rogue blogs, twitter feeds and the grape-vine-like sharing of messages through facebook occurred. Two days after the event, updates finally started to appear on the Town and County’s websites; but where were they right at the start? A debrief of how things were handled during this situation has yet to occur, and hopefully communication (how it was handled, lessons learned, and plans for how to do better) will take place.

Many thanks for sharing how Fairfax County communicated with your constituents during an emergency situation. Your example will certainly accompany me to the table and help us plan for how to do better next time.

Chris Poirier

Greg, as always you’re a rock star. This is great and a great run down of how things worked out for your efforts!

Keep up the great work! Love the blog, it’s a perfect mix of info, resources, etc with solid reminders not to self deploy, etc. Awesome work!

Susan Bishel

Thanks so much for sharing, Greg, especially the metrics reports. Hopefully it will help some of us in smaller local government agencies to convince the decision-makers that they need to embrace social media!