The switchboard mechanism: How social media connected citizens during the 2013 floods in Dresden

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What characterizes civil disaster response in the digital age? In a growing number of cases, citizens use social media platforms to self-organize and carry out tasks in emergencies that potentially challenge or complement official emergency response. During the 2013 floods in Dresden, Germany, several Facebook groups emerged as a primary means for citizens to gather and share information about the emergency. These networks enabled the emergence of what is here called the “switchboard mechanism,” whereby citizens in need of help could be connected to those offering it. Moreover, the online activity helped to create a sense of common purpose among volunteers. In combination with ethnographic research, this article provides an analysis of one of the Facebook groups by categorizing different posts according to their function to examine how such online networks are used to translate online activity into on-the-ground emergency response by citizens. The switchboard mechanism is thus an attempt to add to a conceptual apparatus for research into the ways that such online–offline translations occur during disasters.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Contingencies and Crisis Management
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)350-357
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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