The City of Calgary, an ICLEI and Building Adaptive & Resilient Communities (BARC) Program member, was hit with massive flooding at the end of June 2013. Nearly 30 neighbourhoods in and around Alberta’s largest city were under a mandatory evacuation order on June 20th and 21st, with the City remaining in a State of Local Emergency for two weeks.
The situation in Calgary may be one of the best-covered extreme weather events ever, with a lot of information coming from social media. Be it blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Flickr – user accounts of municipal staff, the Calgary Policy, and many Calgarians were where one could find the most up to date account of what the City was facing. Now, as Calgary is in the recovery stage, we’re starting to learn just how big of a role social media played. City staff recognized the value in using a medium that conveyed messages quickly and effectively. The real-life up-to-date information helped expedite the evacuation process, and told community members about road and bridge closures and re-openings, keeping residents safe.
The City of Calgary has posted an interactive timeline that lays out events of the flood, and it’s clear that Twitter was a main conduit of information not only between Mayor Nenshi and residents but also between community members. Quickly becoming trending topics, #YYCflood and #YYChelps were being used by residents looking to help each other. For example, food trucks and restaurants were tweeting their locations and where to get free meals – especially for the first responders and volunteers - and Calgarians were offering extra rooms for those who were being evacuated. One blogger praises the City’s neighbourliness, sense of identity, and civic pride, citing that only 1500 of the 75000 evacuees used the municipally-provided shelters, with all others cared for by friends, family, and even strangers.
Even when the City’s main website was having technical difficulties due to high traffic, the Calgary City News blog picked up the slack, posting key information for citizens. Facebook pages were also started to coordinate volunteer responses such as that of “Calgary Clean Up”, the “YYC Pet Recovery”, and the “Calgary Flood Lost/Found Pets & Fostering” pages which hoped to reunite pets and their owners.
Mayor Nenshi had such a strong presence during the entire course of events, keeping everyone up to date via social media, that by the end of day on June 22, after putting in 43 hours of work, “NapForNenshi” encouraging the Mayor to take a break, became a trending topic on Twitter. Blogs also began posting inspirational stories, illustrating the volunteering spirit that arose in the community. The City’s YouTube page was also an important source of information, both for updating Calgarians during the flood, but also as a means of showcasing the cleanup efforts after the storm. In a Global News report, Mayor Nenshi shared heartwarming stories of community support, demonstrating once and for all, the resilience of the City of Calgary and its residents.
On Friday October 18th 2013, at the University of Calgary's downtown campus, there will be an International Symposium in collaboration with the Institute for Public Health called After the Flood: Making Resilient Communities. For more information, including the list of speakers, click here.