DisastersSocial networks helping during disasters

Published 18 December 2012

In 2005, when Katrina hit New Orleans, social networking Web sites were not as popular or as informative as they are today. Facebook was only up for a year at that point and was still restricted to college students only; Twitter was not started until 2006, and most local governments did not use the Internet for daily updates and information; advancements in social networking Web sites and in technology made a big difference for victims of Sandy

In 2005, when Katrina hit New Orleans, social networking Web sites were not as popular or as informative as they are today. Facebook was only up for a year at that point and was still restricted to college students.  Twitter was not started until 2006, and most local governments did not use the Internet for daily updates and information.

When Sandy hit the northeast earlier this year, the advances in social networking and technology were apparent. Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and smartphones were paramount in getting up to the minute updates to people as well as keeping families of those in the affected area in constant communication. Scenes like this were found all over midtown Manhattan the day after the storm, as people in lower Manhattan were still without power.

TechNewsWorldoffers several examples for  how social networking and the advancement of technology helped during Hurricane Sandy and other disasters.

Justin Auciello, of Seaside Park, New Jersey, started Jersey Shore Hurricane News a bulletin board-style news source on Facebook. Auciello claims his page was the only real source of real-time information in many in the affected areas that were without power.

Surprisingly, based on anecdotal evidence, many people don’t even have a radio, so a connection to a news source that is feeding them information is priceless,” Auciello told TechNewsWorld.

The American Red Cross started a Digital Volunteering training program in 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti.

During Haiti, we were caught off guard by the cries for lifesaving help, trapped under the rubble, etc., which lead us to start our giving of virtual hugs, social engagement messages of emotional support to those facing disaster,” American Red Cross spokesperson Melanie Pipkin told TechNewsWorld.

A digital operation centers was created in March to provide assistance during disasters. Digital volunteers have been trained to work in four-hour shifts participating in Facebook and other networks to send and receive information.

The Red Cross also created three free applications for iPhone and Android smartphones in English and Spanish. The first app by the Red Cross give tips and information on how to use first aid and the other apps give people information on how to protect themselves from hurricanes and earthquakes and what to do in the aftermath of those situations. The apps have been a resounding success as more than one million people have downloaded them.

Jeweler Dixie Louviere was affected by the number of pets that were lost or abandoned during Katrina, so she started a lost-and-found pets page on Facebook called Sandyspets.

The page helps people who lost their animals during Sandy. The page has more than 27,000 “likes,” and it posts images of lost-and-found pets from the areas hit by the storm and provides information on shelters that accept animals.

I knew this would be bad,” she said of Sandy, “and I was too far away to do anything else. I really think that is the beauty of social networking. There are so many people that want to help — and with Facebook, they can help.”

These new sources of information understand the importance of credibility. The information they give out must be correct and precise. For Auciello, the information he posted on his Facebook page needed to be checked through legitimate news sources as well as Twitter for information on local governments and utility outlets.

It’s all about power in numbers,” Auciello told TechNewsWorld. “The base was there to report on Sandy before, during and after. It’s not just news,” Auciello added. “Since its social, JSHN was able to facilitate rescues, find people gas, and direct people to appropriate resources.”

 

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