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Examining the Role of Twitter in Response and Recovery During and After Historic Flooding in South Carolina

Brandt, Heather M. PhD, CHES; Turner-McGrievy, Gabrielle PhD, MS, RD; Friedman, Daniela B. PhD; Gentile, Danielle PhD; Schrock, Courtney MPH; Thomas, Tracey DrPH; West, Delia PhD

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: August 31, 2018 - Volume Publish Ahead of Print - Issue - p
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000841
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Context: 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.

Objective: 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.

Design: 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.

Setting: Twitter posts containing “#SCFlood” with a focus on the Midlands region were extracted and analyzed.

Results: 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.

Conclusions: 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.

Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior, Arnold School of Public Health (Drs Brandt, Turner-McGrievy, and Friedman and Ms Schrock), and Technology Center to Promote Healthy Lifestyles (TecHealth) (Dr West), University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina; Levine Cancer Institute, Carolinas HealthCare System, Charlotte, North Carolina (Dr Gentile); and Department of Health and Human Performance, Berea College, Berea, Kentucky (Dr Thomas).

Correspondence: Heather M. Brandt, PhD, CHES, Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208 (hbrandt@sc.edu).

Funding for this study was provided by the University of South Carolina Office of the Vice President for Research through the South Carolina Resilience to Extreme Storms: Research on Social, Environmental, and Health Dimensions of the October 2015 Catastrophic Flooding funding initiative.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citation appears in the printed text and is provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal's Web site (http://www.JPHMP.com).

Author Contribution: Dr Heather Brandt provided substantial contributions to the conception and design of the work as co-lead for the project with Dr Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy. Dr Brandt led conceptualization and design, and supervised data collection, analysis, and interpretation efforts. She contributed to drafting all sections of the manuscript. She provided final approval of the manuscript and agrees to be accountable for all aspects of the work. Dr Turner-McGrievy served as project co-lead and assisted with project conceptualization, design, and interpretation of findings. In addition, she assisted with drafting the manuscript and reviewing the final version. Dr Friedman assisted with the conceptualization of the research design and reviewed the data analysis plan. She contributed to manuscript editing and approved the final submitted version of this article. Dr Gentile assisted with the conceptualization of the research design and served as one of 3 research assistants who led the data retrieval, management, analysis, and interpretation for this study. She contributed to manuscript editing and provided final approval of the submitted version. Courtney Schrock assisted with the conceptualization of the research design and served as one of 3 research assistants who led the data retrieval, management, analysis, and interpretation for this study. She contributed to manuscript editing and provided final approval of the submitted version. Dr Thomas assisted with the conceptualization of the research design and served as one of 3 research assistants who led the data retrieval, management, analysis, and interpretation for this study. She contributed to manuscript editing and provided final approval of the submitted version. Dr Delia Smith West contributed to conception and design of the project and efforts to secure funding to support the research. She edited the manuscript and has approved the final manuscript. She agrees to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

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