Facebook disaster page saved lives

Winds of up to 250kmh thrashed Cairns during the devastating severe tropical Cyclone Yasi on February 2.
Winds of up to 250kmh thrashed Cairns during the devastating severe tropical Cyclone Yasi on February 2. DAVE HUNT

BY day Garrett Wells is a teacher at Advanced Skills Training.

By night the Rockhampton man provided life-saving advice to millions of people during the Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi.

And today he will be teacher to about 70 high-ranking emergency service officers, Department of Justice head honchos, CEOs, and academics.

The creator of Facebook page, Cyclone Yasi Update, and his skills, have been called in by the government and he will be flown to the Australian Emergency Management Institute in Victoria today to discuss using Facebook as a disaster management tool.

On February 2, the fateful day the cyclone ravaged North Queensland, the page had 509,743 hits, 3576 wall posts, more than 22 million wall posts viewed on wall feeds, and at its peak, 91,000 members.

But Garrett says he’s no IT genius, he just wants to help.

“It started as something small, but grew into something bigger,” he said.

From humble beginnings with his CQ Flood Update – Version 2 Facebook page, to SEQ Flood Update, to NQ Flood Update, and finally Cyclone Yasi Update, Garrett is now seasoned in providing disaster information 24/7.

“Ours was the only 24-hour, real-time updating service,” he said.

“But I was just a man with an idea, I couldn’t do it without my team.”

Garrett recruited 11 people across the state by Facebook, most of whom he’s never met, to help him run the pages.

His motley crew of Facebook administrators include two

professional photographers, two storm chasers, a transport operator and two amateur meteorologists.

“I couldn’t have done it without them, they are a godsend,” he said. “We’ve been mentioned on CNN, Reuters, the Sydney Morning Herald, Channel 7.”

But Garrett will have to face an important crowd alone today and over the next two days as he runs his workshop.

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