In late January and Early February 2019, the Townsville local government area experienced its worst monsoon event on record.
The 2019 weather event was the largest rainfall event to have occurred over the Townsville catchment in the last 120 years. To put this into perspective, over the course of the 2019 weather event, the Ross River Dam received 850,000 megalitres of rainfall, which is 3.8 times the Dam's capacity. Thousands of houses were flooded and hundreds of families were left displaced.
Townsville City Council’s social media team was faced with the task of responding to the event in coordination with the Townsville Local Disaster Management Group (TLDMG) to assist the community during the .
The rapid response to the disaster helped minimise the effects of the event and provide support for the displaced residents who suffered at the hands of this monsoonal rainfall event.
From preparing communication strategies for the possibility of the breaking of the dam bank to the cleaning up of the aftermath, Townsville City Council’s social media team dedicated itself to giving the community accurate, timely information from key agencies so the community was provided with the latest information which would assist them with key decisions they may have to make.
Townsville City Council had previously identified that social media is one of the top three ways the community accessed information during a disaster.
The first step in capitalizing on this was to re-activate the Townsville Disaster Information Facebook page for disaster season.
The social media team then implemented the below four-stage strategy to use during the monsoon:
ALERT PHASE: Commence posting disaster alerts, Townsville City Council media and any relevant preparedness messages as required.
LEAN FORWARD PHASE: Cease departmental messaging across all social media channels and direct traffic to Townsville Disaster Information page. Townsville City Council Corporate Page and Twitter stays operational however only shares info from TDI page and answers queries as required.
STAND UP PHASE: Increase frequency of posting on Townsville Local Disaster Facebook Page. Ensure to inform the community on the monitoring hours of social media channels.
STAND DOWN PHASE: Decrease frequency of posting as required. Reactivate departmental messaging across council social media accounts.
The social media team operated on a 24-hour basis to deliver key messages to the Townsville community using the four-stage strategy.
These messages included the availability of 143,000 free sandbags and 9000 tonnes of sand, the opening of six evacuation centres, flood maps customized for the flood, decisions regarding dam gate movements and the possible implications to life and property, weather updates, road closures and their impacts on evacuations, health and safety updates and the presence of wildlife like crocodiles in suburban areas.
These key messages were delivered using Facebook live videos, repurposed media releases, sharing government agencies’ updates and tweets.
This form of information sharing made the Townsville Disaster Information page a one-stop shop for all information from Queensland Police, Queensland Ambulance, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, the Bureau of Meteorology, and Council itself.
The response from the Townsville community was overwhelming.
More than 3600 social media communications were sent, with 1999 messages and comments, 483 social media posts and an engagement total of 724,705 for the page in February. In February, we reached a total of 3,193,955 people.
Every one of those numbers correlates directly to a person living through Townsville’s once-in-a-lifetime monsoon who was given essential information to minimise the risks to their lives and property.
All communications executed aligned clearly with our main objective to ensure that all residents have equal access to disaster preparedness education before, during and after natural disasters.
This was achieved through best practice communications that were tailored to our residents’ needs and were intentionally staged to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our community.