Use of Facebook for civilian-led disaster response after a winter storm: A “Snowed Out Atlanta” case study


  • J. Danielle Sharpe, MS
  • DeeDee M. Bennett, PhD



Facebook, disaster response, winter weather, social media, emergency communications


Objective: To determine disaster response-related contexts and themes of Facebook posts that were communicated on the “Snowed Out Atlanta” Facebook page in response to winter storm Leon in 2014.

Design: A content analysis.

Participants: A sample of 537 posts from the “Snowed Out Atlanta” Facebook page posted between January 29, 2014 and February 4, 2014.

Main outcome measures: (1) Disaster response-related contexts and themes of Facebook posts communicated in response to winter storm Leon; (2) the shift in the contexts and themes of posts following the storm; and (3) health-related significance of posts for disaster epidemiology purposes.

Results: Of the 537 posts from the “Snowed Out Atlanta” Facebook page, 260 posts (48 percent) were of importance to disaster response efforts. Thirty-eight percent of these posts offered some form of assistance, of which general help and assisting with basic necessities were the dominant themes. One day after winter storm Leon, 189 (64 percent) of the Facebook posts were related to disaster response. Findings also show that very few posts (3.2 percent) from the “Snowed Out Atlanta” page were relevant for disaster epidemiology purposes.

Conclusion: Overall, the “Snowed Out Atlanta” Facebook page is a representation of how social media forums can be used to mitigate adverse effects of severe winter weather events. Nearly half of the Facebook posts were relevant for disaster response and were more common in the immediate aftermath of winter storm Leon. Most of the posts offered general help or assistance with basic necessities. An analysis of posts with health-related content suggested that disaster epidemiology should be emphasized less for severe winter weather compared to other hazards. The results from this study provide insightful information to anticipate the needs of people adversely impacted by severe winter weather.

Author Biographies

J. Danielle Sharpe, MS

Department of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

DeeDee M. Bennett, PhD

Emergency Services Program, School of Public Administration, College of Public Affairs and Community Service, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska


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