The Role of Social Media in Disaster Recovery Following Hurricane Harvey

Courtney Page-Tan Ph.D. 1
  • 1 Department of Security and Emergency Services, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide and Online, Daytona Beach, USA
Courtney Page-Tan
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Security and Emergency Services, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide and Online, Daytona Beach, FL, USA
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Abstract

Hurricane Harvey was social media's first real stress test as a disaster response and recovery mechanism. A confluence of conditions makes it an ideal case study of social media's role in disaster recovery: the lack of a government-issued evacuation order, a call from government leadership for willing and able volunteers with a boat or high-water vehicle to perform life-saving rescues, and wide-spread adoption of social media platforms in the Houston area. While research on online social networks and disasters continues to grow, social scientists know little about how these online networks transform during a crisis and, further, how they drive disaster outcomes. With two original datasets, this study investigates how Houston's online social network transformed during Hurricane Harvey (2017), and the relationship between social media activity and post-Harvey recovery. The findings of a social network analysis (N= 2,387,610) and subsequent statistical analyses reveal the Houston-area online social network grew denser, clustered, and more efficient during the disaster. A spatial analysis and three separate regression models of activity before, during, and after Hurricane Harvey reveal that among 333 Nextdoor Neighborhoods, hyperlocal social media activity was a statistically significant predictor of the rate of rebuilding in these geographically based online communities. These findings suggest that policy and decision-makers should invest into online and offline hyperlocal social networks well before a disaster strikes, and leverage resources and legislation to maintain and strengthen the telecommunications and energy infrastructure that supports access to social media and telecommunications infrastructure during a time of crisis.

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