Disasters and Social Media

I was sitting in my office on Tuesday afternoon working on some blog posts, research and plans for my upcoming trip to Las Vegas.  As usual, on my top monitor (I have two) I had Tweetdeck running alongside iTunes.  As I heard a plane flying overhead, I started to feel something weird.  I was leaning back and balancing on my chair as I typed, and it felt like it was shaking.  I leaned back to anchor the chair against my second desk, but the shaking did not stop.

My office is off of my living room, and as I looked out towards my front door I noticed that a lamp sitting next to my couch had started swaying, and my cat, who had previously been fast asleep on the arm of the chair had her ears turned back, and really didn’t look happy.  That is when it dawned on me: Earthquake?  Earthquake!

It is not often that an earthquake hits the east coast, but given the recent weather patterns we’ve been dealing with (Snow, tornado etc.) I really am not surprised by anything.  I still wasn’t sure what had happened though.  I looked out my front door, and all was well in my quiet little neighborhood, no big cracks in the ground, the earth hadn’t opened up and swallowed my Jetta, so all was well as far as I was concerned.

When I got back to my desk, I looked up at Tweetdeck, and noticed that my feed was flooded with comments about the earthquake.  Literally maybe 30 seconds had passed since the shaking had stopped, and I saw reports from all over the east coast: Richmond, VA, Boston, MA, New York City, Philadelphia, New Jersey.  Through the power of social media, I already was getting an idea of what was going on without even having to turn to the television.

That took me back to the tornado that had hit back on June 1st of this year.  As soon as the tornado touched town, twitter started up.  Many of us, myself included, posted alerts and updates as we got them.  Throughout the night, I was always putting posts up to let my friends and followers know that I was doing okay.

There have been debates and discussions about using social media for disaster notifications, and it really has to be time for this.  Twitter is where I am personally most active, but so many people have Facebook accounts today that just one message sent out to two people will ripple through the social media world and reach more people faster and more effectively than any emergency broadcast or alert siren could.

It’s time for emergency managers and communities to embrace social media for the useful tool that it can be.  Ignore any of the negative that you might hear about it, and really take a good hard look at what it is capable of.

  • StormDiaries

    I’m the weather and communications coordinator for our township’s EMA, and being along the recently floody Delaware River, we learned the value of social media and have been using it. I’m about to launch both a Facebook page and a Twitter feed ahead of this hurricane on its way. Great post, thanks. I experienced the same thing you did, and in fact caught your blog post through one of my Tweeps!

  • Couldn’t agree more, Scott, but you know I’m a disaster junky. Myself, with an ER doc and a fire medic (in three different states) started a non profit organization dedicated to disaster communications, mostly at the state level. That’s how important it is. Social media is far more effective than people realize and still may work when phone lines are down. Second to ham radio, it’s the best tool we’ve ever had.

    Look forward to having a drink with you this time next week!

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