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.
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 ""Expert Round Table on Social Media and Risk Communication During Times of Crisis: Strategic Challenges and Opportunities" 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!