Presented by Incubation Lab: Covering a Natural Disaster, Part 1

Between September 7th and 8th, Tropical Storm Lee stalled over the Southern Tier of New York and Northern Pennsylvania. Throughout the heavy rainfall and the extensive flooding and damage that followed, WSKG staff determinedly provided coverage of the dangerous events. 

In this Presented by Incubation Lab three-part series, Teresa Peltier, Emerging Media Specialist, and Amy Wielunski, Manager of Membership & Special Events, share how WSKG carried on during and after the event, providing valuable online and on-air information to the community. 

Teresa Peltier, WSKG
Online Flood Coverage
by Teresa Peltier, Emerging Media Specialist, WSKG

While many contributing staff needed to evacuate their homes (and eventually report on the flooding overtaking their homes), I was thankfully spared any damage, and took the helm of our online flood coverage endeavors from a computer station at my dining room table.

Online Flood Coverage 
Our online flood coverage stemmed from four main outlets: (our main site), Facebook, Twitter and (our news blog).

Main Site Portal: 
On, our new Web Developer, Joshua Ludzki, implemented a quick resource page for flood information, the “Flood Tracker.” The Flood Tracker hosted information from counties, cities and towns, a widget featuring tweets about the flood, National Weather Service alerts and easy-to-read graphs of river level forecasts for thirteen locations on four area rivers.

High Visibility Updates:
WSKGNews, which usually hosts local news from the Innovation Trail, the AP and other local reports, became a speedy and simple tool for hosting information with greater shelf life. The site kept information of primary importance at the forefront – press releases, information sheets, PDFs and the like coming directly from the counties, cities, towns and states with potentially life-saving information for residents. Two great examples that received heavy traffic include water boil advisories (sediments, sewage and general nastiness leaked into a majority of the area water supplies) and road closures and openings (numerous roadways, including major highways and main streets, became impassable).

Social Media Usage:
I cross-linked the Flood Tracker site and WSKGNews with each other and promoted both heavily with nearly hourly references on our Facebook page and Twitter account.

While I typically restrict our Facebook posts to about six per day, I decided to disregard any post limit. Though I did not keep track, I estimate that I posted flood information about five times per hour over fifteen hours per day, so at least 500 posts during the first week of flood coverage. Information included official statements from local, state and national officials, bystander pictures and accounts, recovery efforts and reports from other local journalists.

I also made use of Twitter, often replicating the information found on Facebook, the Flood Tracker and WSKGNews, as well as following #s7storm, #binghamton, #owego and #flood. In the end, a large majority of the information posted to our Facebook page came from Twitter users posting real-time information. In an attempt to bring some positivity to the grim perspective permeating the Twitter-sphere, I created the hashtag #STierStrong (“STier” being the Southern Tier, a phrase commonly used to describe the southern portion of Upstate New York). I asked users to share inspiring stories of recovery and strength within their communities and started setting the example by reporting on calls for donations, volunteers, town meetings and clean-up successes. Several local followers and news organizations picked up the hashtag.

Metrics of Coverage: 
It is impossible to measure the effect providing on-going (and potentially life-saving) coverage of a natural disaster to the community. Our Facebook page reached an unprecedented level of engagement during the flood, and numerous fans commented that our Facebook page became their only source of information as power and/or cell phone service went out. However, we were able to measure the increased usage the flood coverage areas of our site received.

  • The Flood Tracker page quickly rose to the second most-viewed page ranking (just behind our homepage).
  • experienced a 635% average page view per day increase for September 2011. For four straight days, received over 1,000 page views per day, topping out at 1,486 on September 13th. With the homepage at #1 most-viewed page, flood-related pages take the next four top rankings. The majority of this traffic came via Facebook. 
  • On Facebook, we saw a 4,805 person increase in our monthly active users between September 5th and September 21st, and interestingly, this number rose even higher in the two following weeks when we decreased flood coverage, showing a sustained level of interest in our page. 
  • We gained over 250 new “Likes”, saw a 325% post view increase and a 519% post feedback increase during the first week of coverage (and a 124% post view increase and a 35% post feedback increase during the second week). 
  • On Twitter, we added 88 followers and increased our Klout score by fifteen points throughout the flood coverage period. 

As the community works to recover from the flood, our social media will continue to feature imperative links and information, and we hope to keep many of the new fans and followers interested in our content that is not related to the flood. Overall, more importantly than statistics and ratings, we know we did our best to provide timely, accurate information through all available media, and it seems the community feels we succeeded.

The Presented by Incubation Lab Blog Series tackles the digital media topics that matter to stations, while highlighting and celebrating the online efforts of stations. These regular profiles of products, people and trends can provide you with inspiration and potential collaborators for your own projects.

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