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Superstorm #Sandy: A Real-World Disaster, Socially Shared

Superstorm #Sandy: A Real-World Disaster, Socially Shared
By Rose de Fremery

Superstorm Sandy wrought unprecedented destruction on the New York metropolitan area this week, barreling up the East Coast and making landfall in New Jersey on Monday evening. To date, the historic storm has claimed 127 lives in the Caribbean and the U.S., with an estimated $20 billion in damages so far.

 

The impact of Sandy’s arrival has been severely felt. More than 100 homes burned to the ground in Breezy Point, Queens. A building on 14th Street lost its façade, exposing the apartments inside to fierce wind and rain. Several Manhattan hospitals lost power and were forced to conduct risky evacuations of patients, including newborn babies, during the storm. Subway stations and tunnels completely flooded along with entire sections of the city bordering the Hudson and East Rivers. Airports flooded. A transformer exploded on 14th Street, emitting a bright blue ball of light seen for miles. Shortly afterward, half of Manhattan lost power and went dark. Millions were ultimately left without power across the eastern seaboard.

Increasingly concerned as the hurricane made its way inland, people turned to Twitter rather than traditional news outlets to stay abreast of the latest developments in real time. Local, state and federal agencies also used social media channels to issue public safety warnings and keep residents updated on recovery efforts. Twitter users, accustomed to a certain level of joviality and sarcasm on any given day, grew uncharacteristically sober as the storm progressed, according to the New York Times. It was also reported that, in a rush to share their personal experiences of the storm, Instagram users were at one point uploading 10 #Sandy photos a second.

Some hoaxes circulated online and were quickly debunked. A rumor surfaced claiming the New York Stock Exchange was under several feet of water—an allegation that was later found to be false. Photoshopped images of scuba divers in the subway system were also seen online. Twitter user @ComfortablySmug was called out for intentionally spreading false information about the developing situation in the metro area. Despite the misinformation being broadcast and then disproven, as Reuters reports, Twitter still proved to be an effective lifeline and invaluable source of timely information during the course of the hurricane.




There were some lighter moments shared over social media channels during the storm as well. Mayor Bloomberg’s charismatic sign language interpreter, Lydia Callis, became an instant Internet sensation. El Bloombito, a Twitter account poking fun at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s wobbly ways with the Spanish language, provided real-time comic relief to nervous New Yorkers as Sandy battered their city.

Although the storm has passed, the hardest hit areas will take months to recover. Our thoughts are with those who have lost their loved ones and their homes. There are many ways to help. NYC Service and The Salvation Army are two options worth considering.

Rose de Fremery is Managing Editor of The Social Media Monthly.
8 comments
jan de graaf
jan de graaf

I'm really amazed by the amount of damage by sandy. And how 127 people have died, why didn't they evacuate everyone?

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klaptrap
klaptrap

Hi @taracoomans.  No doubt Twitter personally served you and many others during last few days but its not just Twitter its the whole Social Media web-sphere.  I agree some research and work needs to go into this but its the time and the money that seems to prevent it (one assumes incalculable ROI being the main blocker).  I was just following on along the lines of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) paper 'Social Media and Disasters: Current Uses, Future Options and Policy Considerations' (Lindsay, Sept 6, 2011) and its findings and recommendations.  Not much seems to have been done - or at least published.  Its also interesting, watching the news, that despite all the warnings via traditional methods and press; and new age technologies and Social Media, that you still always get a few who pay no attention.  Those who survive seem to mock their luck and glory in about 2 minutes of fame, those who lose pay the ultimate price.  So its not just the technology but mankind, as it always has been.

klaptrap
klaptrap

I think Social Media can be useful to disseminate information and as a social capital tool but as a disaster management tool I think there is a long way to go before it can be considered effective enough.  The 3 main issues being, technology's reliance on electricity - how effective is Social Media with no power and no networks? The second being accuracy of information; not only the sincere information but also how to filter out the malicious information and thirdly the issue of data privacy. Solve these three and you may have some chance of using Social media as a disaster management tool.  For the time being, the mini social networks as a means to reach out within your own communities is the best fit.

taracoomans
taracoomans

Now that the immediate danger is over, its time we turn our attentions to how social media can best be used on optimized during emergencies. In my blog this week, I give some suggestions and ideas, but essentially, social media should become part of the larger emergency training for organizations, governments and companies. 

taracoomans
taracoomans

 @klaptrap were you able to watch the Twitter streams during the actual emergency on the East Coast and evacuations in Hawaii? I ask because this isn't an academic issue, its a practical one. Unfortunately, academics aren't going to be the ones that make this happen, although there is some interesting research and event some tests happening (check out Tweak the Tweet: http://goo.gl/E5VjG). 

 

As to the money, given the amount spend on US diaster situations already, this would be a small investment; its simply an addition to much of what's already being done. We are fortunate to have some amazing government organizations that serve us during emergencies, they just need to consider this part of their already existing planning, coordination and ongoing training. Gratefully, there are movements towards the use of social media for diaster situations, at local and state levels and even by some utility companies, but it is currently largely uncoordinated.

 

I'm not saying its going to be easy.  Its going to take a coordinated effort on the part of those who use social media professionally  combined with insightful assistance from government, nonprofits and news organizations to make this happen, which is why its important that these discussions happen with an open mind of "what's possible" instead of "no, we can't." 

 

taracoomans
taracoomans

@klaptrap I have to say as someone who was evacuated earlier last week, the beauty of Twitter via smart phone & tablet, was all I needed was my car charger. I had a hard time streaming, but it was possible. Another way to filter information is via hashtags and Twitter lists of official sources. As to privacy, I know exactly what the pros and cons of Twitter are; I use it knowingly. But to your point, this is exactly why a coordinated training effort needs to take place before emergencies. Feel free to read my blog post on my website for more specifics, suggestions and ideas.

klaptrap
klaptrap

 @taracoomans In terms of cost, Social Media can only help prepare and coordinate before, during and after the disaster - it is unlikely to be able to prevent it - but I understand your point.

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