It will take years to recover from the devastating flood that hit Calgary and Southern Alberta in late June. Many communities will never be the same. Others suffered so much damage they may never be rebuilt. Yet despite all the destruction, now estimated at over $5 billion, only four people died. It could have been a lot worse if not for a well-executed emergency communications plan keeping residents informed. Social media and traditional media played a vital role in that plan.
During the worst of it, as the rain poured down and rising rivers flooded one community after another along with the downtown, the zoo and Stampede Park, Twitter became an essential information lifeline for thousands of people. With no electricity, residents in affected communities used Twitter for real time information. Mayor Naheed Nenshi was constantly Tweeting to his tens of thousands of followers and the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA), Calgary Police Service, Calgary Fire
Department and other essential services used Twitter extensively to update flood conditions, coordinate evacuations, provide road closure status and even direct people to emergency shelters. Facebook sites were used to draft volunteers and muster resources and supplies. The flood clearly demonstrated how effective and efficient social media is at disseminating information during an emergency.
Calgary’s news media and in particular the TV stations really came through when it counted. As the flood situation worsened, Global, CTV and CBC affiliates broke into programming and provided wall-to-wall flood coverage for almost 48 hours. As part of its communications strategy, CEMA held frequent media updates and used the media as an information conduit. Mayor Nenshi and officials from CEMA, police and fire were readily available for media interviews. The coverage was critical in keeping the community informed, especially the hundreds of evacuees crowded around TV sets at the emergency relief centres trying to find out if they still had a home to go back to.
Now that the clean-up is underway and thousands of people work to put their lives back in order they can at least be assured that Calgary has an excellent emergency communication plan in place.