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The Crisis Intelligence Blog

Calgary Floods: Analysis of Crisis Leadership and Use of Social Media

01 Jul

calgary-floodsOver nearly the past 2 weeks, Calgary has been hit – and hit hard – with water. The floods started on June 20th and the damage is expected to be in the billions. Over 100,000 people were asked to evacuate their homes, in over 25 communities in and around Calgary.

(For an in-depth explanation of what caused the floods, read this article)

As can be expected in an emergency crisis of this magnitude, within mere hours there were massive amounts of social mentions, online discussions, publishings of videos, images and content circulating the web. To give you an idea, on June 26th (5 days before the publishing of this article) SalesForce released an article stating that, as of June 20th, there had been well over 600,000 social mentions regarding the flood. These mentions vary from tweets to Facebook posts, to forum discussions, blog posts and more.

Calgary floods: Analysis of crisis leadership and use of social media

From Calgary’s mayor to the city’s emergency officials and crisis response departments, Calgary’s leadership and social media use throughout this emergency crisis has been astounding. Not even Twitter Jail could keep Calgary down and away from providing their community with timely, accurate and informative updates! Take a look:

Mayor Nenshi has lead with his head and heart throughout this disaster

Calgary mayor, Naheed Nenshi, has been actively engaging with his community on Twitter, and the positive sentiment around Mayor Nenshi’s engagement is an outstanding 83%. But beyond Twitter, Mayor Nenshi has made it his personal mission to keep Calgarians informed and to keep hope alive. He has been a beautiful symbol of leadership throughout the entire crisis (and continues to be) as he was seen everywhere and anywhere necessary, getting his hands dirty, physically helping the community, engaging on Twitter, conducting press briefings and all the while being a rational, realistic and positive voice of leadership for his city in need.

Read: Leadership in a Crisis: How the Head and Heart Must Come Together (podcast)

The City’s crisis communications and social engagement are to be praised!

The Calgary Police understand the importance of using Twitter in this type of emergency crisis situation. During the floods, @CalgaryPolice were so actively engaged with tweeting updates, information, safety tips, clarifying rumors and responding to incoming inquiries that Twitter actually suspended their account.

Twitter has a spamming and misuse prevention measure that automatically detects if and when an account tweets more than 100 times in an hour, or 1,000 times in the period of one day, and if they have, the account automatically gets placed in “Twitter Jail”. And this is, unfortunately, exactly what happened to the Calgary Police’s Twitter account – which is an indication of how active and resourceful they were on this social network.

Twitter Jail didn’t stop them!

A little thing like Twitter jail wasn’t about to stop the Calgary Police from communicating their important updates and engaging with their community. As soon as the account was locked down, Officer Jeremy Shaw took to his personal account to continue tweeting important communications regarding the floods.


Notice their efficient use of hashtags!

The City of Calgary was extremely efficient with their Twitter communications by using hashtags within a big majority of their flood-related tweets. I almost jumped with joy when I noticed that almost every single tweet contained either #yycflood or #yyc. This made the overwhelming amount of information and tweets extremely easy to search, track and monitor – for both the City and the community.

Read: The Use of Hashtags in your Crisis Communications

Twitter wasn’t their only crisis communications platform that went down during the floods

Although they were posting news, updates and information to their corporate website, the City of Calgary was unprepared for such a high volume of visits at once, which ultimately sent their website crashing down. This, of course, could have been avoided with a proper online vulnerability audit prior to the crisis, but the City was quick to recoup themselves, sending viewers to the City’s news blog instead, where they continued to post timely and extremely informative updates regarding the floods.

This was an extremely wise idea and in fact, their news blog should have been the source of all of their updates and flood-related information from the beginning.

Read: Making Good Use of Your Blog in a Crisis

Now that their website is back up and running, the City of Calgary continues to use their blog as their main platform for publishing timely and informative updates.

For those who are turning to the City’s website for these updates, the City of Calgary has wisely embedded a big red notification dead-centre on their homepage, funnelling people to the right platforms to receive the information and updates that they’re looking for. This is beautifully done.


Calgary’s use of mobile apps during this emergency crisis

The future is in mobile. That’s a fact to it’s very core. If you think about it, all those 100,000 people who were evacuated from their homes during this flood, what is the one thing that we can be sure that the majority of them did not leave their home without? Their mobile phone.

The City of Calgary had 2 extremely useful, free apps that their community could easily download from the app store and receive push notifications, real-time alerts and all the information they needed, as well as publish their own inquiries, pictures and more.

The 311 Calgary App

“Your city anywhere, anytime! 311 Calgary is your on the go connection to The City. Report and track select city services via your smart phone using location based technology with the option to include a photo of your concern.”

city of calgary 311 app photo1city of calgary 311 app photo2

The City of Calgary News App

“Stay on top of what’s happening in your City with the free City of Calgary News app, linking you to City news, services, careers and more”

city of calgary news app photo 1city of calgary news app photo 2 city of calgary news app photo 3

The fact that the City of Calgary was set up with these useful apps before the floods hit proved to be extremely useful and beneficial throughout the crisis. When updating their community, they would encourage people to download and use the apps, and those who did not have access to a computer received prompt updates and notifications each time there was a new piece of information added to the RSS.

Read: The Future is in Mobile. Is Your Crisis Management Plan Ready?

Summarizing and lessons worth learning

calgary-floods-2All in all, the City of Calgary did a magnificent job leading their community through this disastrous crisis and leveraging the power of social to help them do so.

There are, of course, a couple of take-aways that I’d like for you to learn from this case study. Some were out of the City’s control and others should have been addressed before-hand, but through them all, Calgary was resilient and didn’t let anything get in the way of efficient and timely communications with their community – which is an invaluable lesson in itself.

What to do about Twitter Jail restrictions

Hopefully Twitter will fix this issue all on their own, but until that has been done, it’s important to be aware of this restriction. In order to shield yourself from being put in Twitter Jail, here are some contingency plans to evaluate and add to your own crisis management plan now:

  • Understand the rules and regulations of Twitter, including the potential risks that the platform itself presents, i.e.: Twitter going down, Twitter Jail, etc. (Note: This should be done for each social platform that your brand is on, not just Twitter)
  • Have multiple Twitter accounts with similar and descriptive handles to tweet from in a crisis (Make sure that your stakeholders are aware of all of them and each of their communication purposes)
  • Use hashtags within your crisis communications. This way, no matter where you tweet from, people can follow your updates and the information you share.

What to do about potential website and other platform crashes

A website crashing due to a high volume of visits will only happen if you let it. Take the time to evaluate the maximum amount of traffic your website is able to withstand, and if it isn’t enough for a high-level crisis situation, work with your IT department to fix it.

Here are other things that you should be doing right now, before a crisis strikes:

  • Conduct a vulnerability audit on your website and online presence. Evaluate: how much traffic your website can withstand without crashing, how optimized your website and online presence is within the search engines, if a dark website strategy is something you should look into and develop, etc.
  • Develop a blog or a news room that will enable you to continuously and easily post updates in a crisis. This gives people the ability to easily subscribe to receive your information and updates directly in their inbox or via RSS .
  • Engage with your stakeholders on multiple channels, cross-linking between them all and efficiently using the proper hashtags. This way, if one or more of your channels or platforms fail, you will not have lost a huge portion of your audience.

Read: Dark Websites as a Crisis Management Strategy (White Paper)

The time to plan is NOW!

When discussing the likelihood of these Calgary floods, Uldis Silins, a hydrologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton was quoted saying:

“To have these very large flood events … the stars have to line up”

This goes to show that no matter how unlikely, the stars always risk lining up and when they do, you need to be ready.

In a high-profile crisis situation, are you and your team ready to communicate, update and manage the crisis as quickly, efficiently and brilliantly as the City of Calgary has just done? If the answer is no, or if you aren’t sure, it’s time to get on it.

 Image credits: Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun

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4 Responses to “Calgary Floods: Analysis of Crisis Leadership and Use of Social Media”

  1. Francisca July 5, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    Congratulations on another wonderful blog. I really enjoy your updates and I will pass this on to my network. All the best!

    • Melissa Agnes July 6, 2013 at 10:08 am #

      Thanks, Francisca! I appreciate your kind words of encouragement.


  2. Monika July 6, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    Thanks, Melissa. One of your best posts. Particularly interesting to see how things have evolved since the QLD floods here in Australia a few years back – which at the time were very well handled from a comms perspective as well

    • Melissa Agnes July 6, 2013 at 10:11 am #

      Hi Monika,

      It's certainly the most in-depth analysis I've published to my blog. Glad you enjoyed it!

      You're right, it's always interesting to look at the then and now, comparing two well-handled crises each managed with the technology and communications platforms of their time. Very interesting indeed!


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