How Social Innovation Became A Lifeline During Hurricane Sandy

The use of social media through social innovation played a huge and positive role to keep people updated about Hurricane Sandy, which hit the east coast on October 29, 2012.  Starting with Facebook, the ten words and phrases most posted by Facebook users over the crucial 24 hours when Hurricane Sandy was about to hit were: Sandy / hurricane/Hurricane Sandy; stay safe/be safe; storm; weather; east coast; power; my friends; cold; prayers/praying and wind/winds.  In addition, according to Radian6, (measures social media use) says, #Sandy had more than four million mentions by almost 400,000 unique sources on Twitter during that 24-hour period.

On the mobile photo sharing site Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, there were 233,000 photos with the hashtag “Sandy,” 100,000 under “Hurricanesandy” and 20,000 under “Frankenstorm” as of Monday afternoon, according to the Associated Press.

“There are now 10 pictures per second being posted with the hashtag ‘Sandy,’ ” said Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom in an e-mailed statement. “I think this demonstrates how Instagram is quickly becoming a useful tool to see the world as it happens — especially for important world events like this.”

Twitter and Facebook became a key method for friends and family to check in on each other and wish those on the East Coast to be safe.   Some people posted updates on whether they had power or on the strength of the wind and rain where they were.

Those in the path of the storm could find practical tips, too. FEMA urged its 163,400 Twitter followers to use texts or social media to keep tabs on their friends and relatives because phone lines get clogged during disasters. It used its Twitter feed to tell people to use social media for the latest news on the storm’s path and to offer tips such as never drive across water flooding a road.

Google helped those affected prepare for the storm with a dedicated crisis map which used social innovation to track Sandy’s path, letting users choose between several layers of information, such as the current location of the storm, forecast track, shelter locations, cloud imagery, public alerts and more. Google also launched a special Sandy crisis map for New York City which displayed information about evacuation zones, evacuation centres and the Red Cross emergency shelters.

If you had a smartphone there were quick, easy and cheap useful apps to download to keep people up-to-date about Sandy. There was something called the Hurricane Tracker for iOS, which delivered the latest forecasts and National Hurricane Centre data on the storm’s path right to your iPhone. It also included relevant Twitter feeds from storm centres and meteorologists. The American Red Cross has a vital Hurricane app for iOS and Android with many features. It tracks weather information, lets you broadcast an “I’m safe” message to friends and family and if you do need to evacuate your home, it maps the nearest Red Cross shelter. It also has a list of steps to take in case of an emergency.

As Hurricane Sandy swept through New York City, the New York Fire Department’s Twitter account responded to pleas for help, offering words of comfort, all in 140 characters or less. The Twitter feed was a lifeline for many stranded and it responded to hundreds of tweets most of them in the first hour or two after Sandy. In retrospect, Twitter and Facebook became a key way for friends and family to check in on each other and wish those on the East Coast safe.

Living in New Jersey and being directly impacted by the storm, I relied heavily on social media to get information on the storm.  Do you think the hurricane would have been worse without the use of social media?  Did you find yourself using it to reach out to family and friends?


4 thoughts on “How Social Innovation Became A Lifeline During Hurricane Sandy

  1. Social media comes through, post-Sandy, too.

    Inspired by your blogpost, I decided to check Twitter using hashtags #gas & #newyork. I discovered that has been recently enhanced to show gas stations WITH gas.

    I performed similar Google and Bing searches on “gas in new york” and did not find similar valuable information.

    So, Twitter will (hopefully) help me to gas up tonight, on my trip home from class.

  2. I personally had benefited so much from social media during the hurricane last week. Not only got tagged, messaged, and checked in by/with friends and families, but also I ‘rescued’ a few friends who live in downtown Manhattan where the power and water got cut off by Sandy. I saw my friends’ Facebook status of being evacuated from their apartments and I simply left the address of my apartment on their wall and told them feel free to move in if they needed. I live near Time Square, lucky enough I get power the whole time. Although my one-bedroom apartment got so packed with 5 people in the end, but we really had a great time ‘surviving’ the hurricane together last week!

    In addition to serious living/safety/power updates on Facebook, Twitter, and whatever social platforms out there, I also got entertained by social media during the hurricane. A friend of mine reposted a twit, it was a picture of a shark swimming on the street in flooded New Jersey area. Forgive me if I offended people who suffered in New Jersey last week (I do feel sorry for people whose houses got flooded), while I doubt whether the shark image was real, it was a good laugh I have to admit.

    None of these would have happened without social media, especially when you get stuck in door for that many days, living without social media just seems impossible.

    • I think Hurricane Sandy was the type of experience that brought people together in many ways and I believe that the enhanced social media presence in today’s world was instrumental in facilitating this. I’m sure that there were many people out there itching to get on their facebook mobile pages in light of a power outage and the threat of draining battery. It is a natural human instinct to what to know what’s going on in a time of crises and now social media is not only insight on the grand scheme of things but in this case it yielded a narrower perspective as a tool to check on the safety of friends and family.

  3. I think social media indeed helped a lot of people in the storm. It helped me as well as many other people to get the news and other information about what the situation was. I don’t have a TV. So I relied on the internet and social media to know nearly everything outside. I planned to go to the flea market near Brooklyn Bridge with my friends on Sunday 28th Oct. Fortunately, I saw the news via social media that the mass transit service would stopped at 7 p.m. in time. So we decided to stay at home. I used the social to tell my friends and family in China what my situation was because it was not convenient for me to talk to them one by one via telephone or other methods. With social media I didn’t feel scared and lonely during the last few days.

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