Following a week of intense precipitation and drops in temperature, communities in Northern Nevada experienced a massive storm on January 8th that could have left many injured or displaced.
Anxiety about what was expected to be the “storm of the decade” dominated headlines and social news feeds over the weekend. Many wondered whether the most vulnerable parts of the community could survive the effects of the inclement weather.
Even as floodwaters rose and citizens moved to evacuate in search of higher ground, another story played out. That story was about a community coming together to launch a sustained, organized effort to protect its people and property.
Using Hashtags: #NVFLOOD17 / #NVFLOOD2017
Social media users likely noticed a preponderance of the hashtag #NVFlood17 as they scrolled this weekend. A cursory search of the tag on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter reveals an array of content ranging from evacuation and safety advisories to dark humor.
Of particular importance were tweets published by official organizations like The City of Reno and the National Weather Service. These status updates provided vital information about flood locations, emergency contacts and services available to those in need.
Similarly, journalists and a few concerned citizens shared their individual takes on the flood via the hashtag, offering assistance to others and keeping loved ones informed about conditions throughout the region.
Impressions at a Glance
Conversation about the flood on social media was popular and far-reaching, accruing 2.7 million impressions online and reaching over 1.5 million internet users. The stats below reflect a rough estimate of social media participation–but keep in mind that this refers specifically to hashtag use, and not to general chatter which was likely more widespread.
At a glance, Twitter represented the most popular public square for discussion of the flood by far. That said, it could be argued that it was Facebook that provided both viewers and communicators–including news producers and influencers–with the most value. More on that later in this post.
According to the graph above, Instagram performed modestly even in comparison to Facebook. That said, one should not underestimate the impressions and engagements secured on the highly visual platform. Views of video content regularly (and easily) numbered in the hundreds and thousands during the event, and users are continuing to share personal flood coverage in its aftermath.
In addition to #NVFlood17, official organizations and journalists like Mike Higdon also used #NVFLOOD2017 to share information about the flood. Though used less frequently than #NVFlood17, some valuable information could be found in this hashtag as well.
Stakeholders and Influencers as Messengers
Leading the charge among those sharing critical updates about the flood were community leaders and influencers.
Mayor Hillary Schieve took to various social media accounts to impress upon her constituents the importance of avoiding the flood. The YouTube video above, posted by local journalist Paul Harris, shows the Mayor along with Councilmember David Bobzien as they describe the flood’s myriad dangers.
Government officials weren’t the only people getting involved. A social media post encouraging citizens to warn the downtown area’s vulnerable homeless population to seek emergency shelter ahead of the flood circulated quickly and business owners like Brianna Bullentini of RAWBRY used their Facebook pages to keep their peers informed of where to find sandbags and other resources.
Meanwhile, faced with mounting safety concerns and a few constituents who were less eager to evacuate than some would have hoped, Governor Brian Sandoval declared a state of emergency “due to severe weather” and “the possible danger to life”.
At the time of writing, each of these community influencers was continuing to monitor and publish about content about the inclement weather, with the National Weather Service tweeting:
— NWS Reno (@NWSReno) January 9, 2017
Consistent Email Communication
Though social media platforms played a large role in disseminating safety information to the public, organizations did not forego more traditional means of communication entirely.
Besides heavy regional news coverage, state and local agencies including Washoe County’s Regional Emergency Operations Center kept stakeholders and the media up-to-date on all flood-related developments, regularly providing updates via emails and press releases.
Facebook Live Wins Big
Anyone curious about Facebook Live’s practical value got a first-hand demonstration from news organizations and citizen journalists throughout the Northern Nevada region.
The Reno Gazette-Journal was keen to implement this technology, gathering reportage from several of their staff and providing the community with regular updates on the condition of a number of regions. Here’s a link to a recording of RGJ reporter Anjeanette Damon’s live feed.
Live feeds related to #NVFlood17 were widely shared within the community, and likely provided an enticing scoop for the adventurous looking to make a splash on social media. That said, safety organizations did have to direct non-reporters to evacuate more than once.
Happily, no flood-related injuries or deaths have been reported as of Monday, January 9th.
While the effect of communication campaigns launched by regional agencies and spread by citizens might be difficult to measure in exact terms, it isn’t unreasonable to conjecture that an organized, sustained approach to distributing information about the flood before, during and after its most severe points.
To that end, regional agencies around the country might want to consider looking to Reno for successful models in severe-weather and disaster outreach.
The Biggest Little City and its surrounding communities did a phenomenal job of coming together, protecting property and keeping everyone safe–one tweet, status update, live video and email at a time.
Photo Credit: @oliverending via Instagram
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