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?