Social media has played an increasing role in the response to emergency situations through information exchange and efforts to promote recovery. Understanding more about how social media users share and re-share information is particularly important to help emergency response entities determine best strategies for expanding reach and impact through social media in disseminating emergency messages.
This study examined the role and use of Twitter as a response and recovery strategy before, during, and after historic rainfall and flooding in the Midlands region of the greater Columbia, South Carolina, area in October 2015.
A cross-sectional, thematic, and descriptive examination of Twitter data across 4 time periods (before the historic rainfall and flooding, during, immediately after a boil water advisory period, and 6 months later) was conducted.
Twitter posts containing “#SCFlood” with a focus on the Midlands region were extracted and analyzed.
The most common themes of tweets across all 4 time periods were weather conditions, devastation description, resource distribution, volunteerism, actions to reduce threats to health, and appreciation. Tweets mostly originated from individual users, followed by media outlets, governmental agencies, and nonprofit agencies. Tweets from the first 3 time periods were largely focused on built and natural environment devastation and action to reduce threats to health, and tweets from the fourth time period were primarily focused on cleanup and repair.
Twitter was utilized widely as a communication tool to provide time-sensitive and critical information before, during, and after the event. Ensuring that key social media users have developed disaster communication strategies inclusive of Twitter seems important in aiding response to and recovery from natural disasters.