Ten Social Media Methods To Fight Hurricane Season

Katrina's devastation of New Orleans was BSM (before social media). It's hard to think that we lived during a period of time without social networking, but only 4 years ago Facebook was barely one year old, and Twitter was yet to be inked out on a restaurant napkin.

Had Social Networking been part of our daily lives back in 2005, there may have been a few preventative measures we could have taken. In the next 80 hours, we may be experiencing three named storms all barreling into the Caribbean, Florida and maybe the Carolina's.

The Twitter Revolution that echoed throughout the Twitterverse from the streets of Tehran to DC and beyond was a recent identifiable example of how social media can affect our global voice. While the Iranian elections were not overturned, the opposition was not imprisoned and millions of lives were spared the mighty wrath of the Supreme Leader because social networking was watching every move made. And with each investigative tweet, the Iranian government knew its behavior was under a global microscope.

So the impact of social media is clear and it is evident we need to harness that power for natural disasters in the same way we fought against infractions of human right issues and censorship.

Here are ten ways social media can help fight future devastation in hurricane targeted territories throughout the US.

1- Hurricane Social Networks -can be established where tweets and posts with RSS feeds can provide updates in real time to niche networks. When storms are beginning to hit a category 3 or higher level, real-time search can provide locations for gas stations, shelter, food and water, ATM machines, evacuation centers and evacuation routes. Emicus.com is such a network in Beta mode. Believing in the power of social media, Emericus will become the first one-stop resource for disaster preparedness.

2- Infrastructure - much of the devastation resulting from Hurricane Katrina, particularly to the city of New Orleans, resulted not from the initial wind damage, but from the collapse of key portions of the infrastructure which were not designed to withstand an event of that magnitude. The collapse of key levees in the Big Easy caused tens of millions of dollars of damage and loss because they were designed to withstand only a category 3 hurricane. Start tweeting, blogging and emailing state and federal officials to re-examine our infrastructure plans throughout the hurricane belt. Join online petitions and voice your concern.

3- Insurance - In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, many individuals who thought they had insurance to cover damages resulting from the hurricane found they were not insured for all damages. This is because most insurance policies have specific riders excluding coverage for flood damage. So if a hurricane blows out a levee causing water to crash into and submerge your home, the damage, although caused by a hurricane, may not be covered. Communicate to all insurance companies that have a presence on social networks and discuss these issues. Make them know that these types of policies are not acceptable, and changes need to be made to assist those that incur this type of devastation.

4- Communication- Hurricane Katrina illustrated that a widespread disaster can displace residents and employees without access to Internet connections or working land-lines. In advance of natural disasters, less-traditional communication methods might include two-way radios, cellular telephones with out-of-state area codes and/or text messaging capability, satellite telephones, or personal data assistant (PDAs). Cell phones that have access to social networks can be used to report one's location and current status.

5- People Finders- Twitter, Facebook and other social networks should devise a 'disaster recovery plan' to assist in locating people that are stranded by a storm. Perhaps similar to a 911 call to a police station, postings to a central location on these social networks with one's location and contact information could be another means for the distressed to reach out to family and loved ones. In reverse, the social networks can communicate safe-house facilities in various areas that can provide the displaced with updated shelter locations.

6- Learn from the Past - As Hurricane Bill approaches the Southeast this August, President Obama should take heed of the mistakes made on by the Bush administration when Katrina, Rita and Camille hit.  Some of these lessons include: be prepared with a massive relief effort for the worst case scenario; make sure evacuations are done early and are well-organized especially for hospital and nursing home patients;  and, make sure federal and local authorities have clear lines of communication to coordinate their efforts. Tweets to Obama and his administration on Twitter indicating our concern about learning from our past mistakes can bring 'hurricane preparedness' to the forefront of the administration's mindset. With health care and the economic woes of this country taking precedent in our daily lives, it is important that this type of awareness be brought into the forefront as well. Bush's focus on 'terrorism' kept him at bay from the critical needs required in New Orleans and the Southeast US, and as a consequence, he responded with too little, too late.

7- New Orleans Residents' Demographic- Before Katrina hit four years ago this month, New Orleans had a nativity rate of 80 percent, the highest of any city in the United States. To translate: 80 percent of New Orleans residents were born in the city. To put this in perspective, as altruistic as Iranians are for their country, New Orleans' natives do not want to leave their place of birth. This is one of the reasons so many perished as it was emotionally difficult for many residents to evacuate the city when it was necessary.  Even for those who don't share their affection for the city, there is plenty of reason to pay attention to the city's reconstruction. However, not one dollar of the $787 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — better known as the Stimulus Package — is directed to the levees or wetlands of southern Louisiana, and some reports indicate that rebuilding the infrastructure could take 10- to 15-year project. Can we wait this long?  Again tweet or blog state and federal officials about the need to obtain funds to rebuild New Orleans to its pre-Katrina status as quickly as possible.

8- Smartphones Apps -are being developed to track hurricanes. Similar to other GPS devices, apps need to include storm-tracking maps and weather updates. Weather Underground has just released an iPhone-specific version of their mobile site that includes a tropical storm tracker so that you can track hurricanes on your iPhone.The service enables iPhone users to access a wide range of hurricane tracking maps including 5-day forecast maps, computer model maps, satellite maps, wind maps and historical maps.

Weather UndergroundWeather Underground

iPhone users also can access text advisories by state and city. An app called Tracking the Eye, for instance, churns out data culled from public advisories, strike probabilities, current position, and satellite photos. Meanwhile, Hurricane Ready, an application developed by a company called Thirtynine, compiles information on water levels, food safety, and hurricane history.You can find many more hurricane apps through a simple iTunes search.

9- Twitter Accounts - the following Twitter accounts will provide you with updates on hurricanes. Check out their profiles and how they differentiate themselves. During the season, it would be advisable to "follow" all of these accounts to receive status updates so they hit your Twitter stream, in real-time.

  • @MyFoxHurricane — Twitter feed from the web-based resource we mentioned above.
  • @hurricanes — regular updates about hurricanes in the tropics, with a focus on the Atlantic region.
  • @hurricanealerts — hurricane alerts and tropical storm updates and advisories for the coastal U.S.
  • @breakingweather — AccuWeather.com’s Twitter feed offers updates on tropical storms and other severe weather conditions.
  • @wunderground — get hurricane and other severe weather warnings and updates from Weather Underground’s Twitter feed.
  • @stormpulse — the Twitter feed of the Stormpulse site offers frequent updates on tropical weather worth tracking.

                                (note: Mashable lists some additional hurricane accounts.)

10- Recommendations from the Public & Private Sectors - A report titled """ resulted from a risk communications roundtable--held March 31 in Washington, DC--sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton, the American Public Health Association, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, International Association of Emergency Managers, and National Association of Government Communicators. Their combined intelligence issued a report that offered tips for how organization might best use social media during emergencies:

  • Make social media efforts message driven, not channel driven.
  • Keep messages brief and pertinent. People are not really reading, they are scanning.
  • Make sure you can receive public input. Remember that social media is not just about you talking to the public; it also is about them talking to you and to each other.
  • Use social media to support a unified message. Instead of creating a new message for social media, use social media to support your existing message in a larger communications model.
  • Avoid "shiny new object syndrome" (being quick to adopt every new social media that emerges...as soon as it emerges).

Katrina, Rita and Camille should stand as constant reminders of the dangers incurred when storm warnings are not taken seriously and we lose our vigilance in storm preparedness.

UPDATE: Tropical Storm Ida has come ashore near Mobile Bay in southern Alabama with top sustained winds weakened to about 45 mph. (Nov. 10)

Have a safe and socially-connected Hurricane Season!


Aug 19, 2009
by Anonymous

just helping with some small but important mistakes

Thanks for writing a positive article supportive of New Orleans and its people.

said: "portions of the infrastructure which were not designed to withstand an event of that magnitude. "

Please stop spreading these myths. New Orleans outfall canals collapsed long before they were even overtopped. They were supposed to be designed to stay standing at least until they were overtopped or at least nearly so. They did not fall down because they weren't tall enough or because Katrina was a storm stronger than that for which they were designed.. Maintenance was not the cause. Corrupt local officials were not the reason. It was not the fault of New Orleans' weak soils. These engineering structures failed like cheap movie props before they should have.

Our outfall canal floodwalls fell down long before seeing their design load because of negligence by engineers in the design of those structures' foundations. Those engineers were employed by the US Army Corps of Engineers. These are the facts as reported in all three of the official levee failure investigation reports. Ours was not a natural disaster. It was man made. It was the worst engineering disaster in the history of our country.

said: "The collapse of key levees in the Big Easy caused tens of millions of dollars
of damage and loss"

No, my friend, the federal levee failures caused over a hundred BILLION dollars in damage and killed well over a thousand US citizens and many thousands have died of stress since Katrina.

There are many myths. I bet you didn't know the Lower Ninth Ward is but two of the 140 square miles in just Orleans Parish that flooded. The Corps put water in my house up to the ceiling fan blades and that salt water sat there for weeks. We rebuilt our home with the living space above the flood line from levee failures. 60% of my neighbors have managed to rebuild. Did you know the about 70% of New Orleans homeowners had flood insurance Pre-K - a higher per capita rate than nearly anywhere else.

The insurance industry really cheated MS homeowners, many of which did not have flood insurance. The insurance companies wouldn't pay wind claims because they said the storm surge destroyed those houses when everybody knows the winds arrive before the surge. The Mississippi Gulf Coast was devastated by Katrina - Not New Orleans. The USACE did us in.

said: "Katrina, Rita and Camille"

I think you meant Katrina, Rita and Gustov - Camile devestated MS in 1969.

Aug 20, 2009
by Ron Callari

New Orleans clarifications

Thanks for the clarifications. I am sure our readers will appreciate the points made regarding New Orleans and the Katrina aftermath. Let's hope we never see that type of devastation again in our lifetimes.

Ron Callari is a freelance journalist and editorial cartoonist. His slighlty off-center published work includes trends, social media, politics, travel, humor and political articles.

Follow Ron on the InventorSpot and Twitter.com/roncallari

Aug 22, 2009
by Anonymous

You shouldn't rely on the

You shouldn't rely on the Federal gov't to respond to a disaster. The public and the local gov't need to respond to the disaster. The Federal gov't will help recover from the disaster.

Don't fool yourself, twittering insurance companies are going to make them change any of their policies. It all comes down to $. I'm sure the insurance companies will be happy to add it to your policy, you will just have to pay more $$$.

It is a great idea to use social media as part of your communications plan. First it was know a relative's phone number. Then it was to include their email address. Now your communications plan should include twitter or facebook. Just don't forget their phone number! Keep that in a safe place. Sometimes you won't have internet after a disaster and even normal landline communications may be affected. Also have an out of town contact. Sometimes it's easier to call long distance during a disaster.

One question that I have is how will social media get people to take action? Especially with hurricanes, we know they are coming, but many times the public ignores local officials telling them to take protective action...until it's too late.

Aug 24, 2009
by Anonymous

Flood insurance requires separate policy

Hello. I'm a representative for the Insurance Information Institute in Florida and would like to offer a suggestion for the section on insurance. Most insurance policies have excluded flood coverage since 1968, when Congress authorized the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). So, needing a separate flood insurance policy is nothing new and is authorized by the federal government, in response to increasing damage caused by floods and the high cost of providing tax-payer disaster relief. Please consider adding that information to the #3 section on Insurance, along with the link to information about federal flood coverage - www.floodsmart.gov. Property insurance policies carry a notice in the first pages - declarations page section - to remind people that flood insurance requires a separate policy, which can be purchased through the same company or agent that handles their homeowner or renters insurance. Another important piece of flood insurance information: According to the NFIP, floods occur in all 50 states and one-third of all flood claims they pay are for policies in areas considered low-risk. The insurance industry would like for people to know their risks and have these facts, so they can be prepared for natural disasters. Please let me know if I can help further. Thank you.

Lynne McChristian

Sep 29, 2009
by Anonymous

Excellent Article!

Great article on improving emergency communications during hurricanes. Regarding SMS technology, as long as cellular networks remain functioning, this may be one of the top ways to communicate with an entire community and even receive real-time responses. At Globaltel Media this has been a focus when tailoring our solutions for emergency communication. The two-way SMS abilities enable mass communication from a centralized computer with real-time response from those on the ground.
-Robert Sanchez