Flows in the Flood: Mapping Communication Flows During Irene

September 21, 2012


The view from my front door during Tropical Storm Irene.

Last summer Irene brought the worst flooding in anyone’s memory to my area of the Catskills. Being able to provide live coverage during such crisis  events was a big motivation for starting WGXC, a radio station that I’ve been involved with from its beginning. Unfortunately, WGXC was knocked off the air within hours of the flooding. Though the transmitter was down, we continued webstreaming. We also reported through Twitter and participated in the Watershed Post’s Hurricane Irene Catskills Liveblog. The question is, in a rural area that overall has a lighter media and communications infrastructure and generally less people online, how effective was an online only approach?


Like tens of thousands of others, I documented my experience of the flooding and shared it through social media. Now that social media leaves a rich record of how information flowed during the flooding.


To begin to answer this, I spent the summer conducting interviews with those who shared information publicly during the event- journalists, citizen reporters, and crisis volunteers. At the end of the summer I shared findings with community members. In all, in spite of the fact that only 50% of the adult US public was using social media in 2010, it seems that collaborative online reporting was surprisingly effective at getting needed information out to the public. Though, it seems to have acted in a complementary way to other communication services available including old fashioned landline telephone service and terrestrial radio broadcast. The public did a lot of heavy lifting sharing needed info in the region, especially through Facebook. But the most prominent information sources were guided by professional communicators including journalists, a PR specialist, a professional map-maker and radio hosts. I’ll soon be hunkering down over these interviews to prepare an academic paper with more details.

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Infrastructure, Media, Projects, Social Impact, Systems, User Experience