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Online Information Behaviors During Disaster Events: Roles, Routines, Reactions

Tyler Mccormick and Emma Spiro

August 2014 CSSS Working Paper #144



Social media and Internet-based messaging systems are increasingly important platforms for risk communication. A global audience turns to these tools to seek, disseminate, and curate time-sensitive, emergency information during periods of crisis. Moreover, emergency management organizations report adopting these tools to augment their typical public information functions. Here, we use unsupervised machine learning methods and text analysis to explore online communications from a set of state and Federal emergency management-related organizations over a period of 15 months. We compare communication during routine, non-event periods with communication during significant disaster events in order to evaluate differences in the roles these organizations play. Findings indicate that communications from emergency management organizations align based on functional roles during routine situations, but during crisis events communication strategies converge on a mutual objective. These results have important practical consequences for organizational learning within this environment and could inform social media policies for emergency responders.

Keywords: crisis informatics, microblogging, emergency response and recovery, social media, topic models