There are lots of news headlines comparing the recent St Jude's Storm with the storm of 1987. But if you just do a little research, such as consult the Met Office website, you will find out that this is not the case. The ’87 storm was much more severe. Many buildings were destroyed and 22 people lost their lives. Winds reached 122 miles an hour and covered a greater area of the country. Public parks and gardens were re-landscaped overnight as many of the familiar old trees had vanished from the skyline.
Famously Michael Fish and the Met Office were in denial that the storm was going to happen. Since then weather prediction technology and our understanding of weather patterns have improved greatly, so this time we knew well in advance of the likelihood of an impending storm.
All technology has moved on, and none more so than communications technology with the prevalence of social media.
Local councils have embraced social media to communicate in real time with the public during times of extreme weather. There are many examples of local councils utilising social media to great effect during St Jude's storm. Haringey were reporting tree falls on a 20-minute basis and giving updates when they were cleared, Hertfordshire Highways did the same, actively asking people to contact their website if they witnessed any disturbance. Bournemouth kept residents up to date with the changing conditions, including drifting sand, and informed them as to what was being done to protect the shoreline.
Social media has enabled local news to become even more local, and more importantly, immediate. This is not a one-way conversation. Residents are able to report that a tree has fallen across a particular road on social media and receive close to instant feedback.
But what about those incidents that are not reported to the council or flagged on the organisation's social accounts?
Without the ability to monitor chat on the social web, many councils are unable to record incidents until they are reported by the police or local journalists. For instance, key word alerts and buzz monitoring, using phrases such as storm+damage+Eastbourne, could alert that authority to an incident immediately, and allow the council to either interact with the message poster or investigate further.
It’s not much use having this communications revolution at your fingertips if you are not going to exploit it to its full potential. North Lanarkshire Council realised the power and usefulness of this approach during the winter of 2010. For the full story read the case study here.