Social Media: The New Emergency Response

           Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Tumblr. All social media. All phenomenal resources for many during Hurricane Sandy. It is unbelievable how social media slowly crept (creeps…is creeping) into our lives. These sites are changing our world. We can communicate with infinite more people worldwide…instantly! The increasing inclusion of social media networks in our daily lives has altered traditional paths of information sharing. Do we turn on the news or log into Facebook? Do we listen to the radio or scan our Twitter feed? How did social media shape people’s experience before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy?

            In a time of crisis, people flock to whatever available outlet exists for information. Public officials took necessary steps to ensure these avenues of information included social media sites. According to Andrew Rasiej, the founder of the Personal Democracy Forum: “’Twitter makes it possible for a public official to create a round-the-clock press conference, simultaneously informing their staff, the public and the press.”[1] Officials embraced a variety of narratives and styles to address their constituencies: “Power utilities tend to be matter-of-fact, keeping emotion to a minimum. Mr. Cuomo is data-driven” while Governor Chris Christie from New Jersey is “oftentimes personal (‘The rides I took my kids on this summer are in the Atlantic Ocean,’ he wrote Tuesday night.)” and Mayor Cory Booker of Newark “replies to more people than most public officials.” Long beach officials made their social media efforts known prior to the actual storm: “In robocalls to residents and on its website, Long Beach city officials said they had started preparing for the storm and would send out updates throughout its hotline, social media accounts, Swift911 notifications and longbeachny.org”[2] I wonder to what extent Long Beach officials carried out these initiatives during and after the storm (How updated were there social media accounts? The website?).

            As is clear from our preliminary investigation using Facebook, many people outside of the region affected by Hurricane Sandy still maintained an interest in the pre- and post-hurricane activity. Some people held great concern for the well-being of their friends and family in the midst of the hurricane. While others may have concern over property they own in the area. Regardless of their stake, many people turned to social media outlets to not only remain updated on the storm, but also attempt to connect with people in the zone of destruction. When power (and phone lines) failed as a result of the storm, people found ways to use social media to maintain communication or facilitate communication to loved ones through people in the surrounding area. Often missing from disaster discussions are the well-being of pets. In fact, many pet owners turned to social media networks to try and locate their lost pets; “the ‘Hurricane Sandy Lost and Found Pets’ Facebook page already has more than 6000 likes. Dozens of users have posted photos, either of found cats and dogs, or a missing pet.”[3] I am interested in analyzing the predominance of these uses of social media in our project


[1] Stelter, Brian and Preston, Jennifer “In Crisis, Public Officials Embrace Social Media.” The New York Times 02 Nov 2012: 15. Print.

[2] Kitchen, Patricia and Oliviera, Nelson “LI urged: Get ready; ‘Frankenstorm’ could hit with high winds, flooding; LIPA officials warn of possible extended outages.” Newsday [New York] 26 Oct 12: A04. Print.

[3] “The struggle to save the animals-HELL AND HIGH WATER-“ Sunday Telegraph [Australia] 04 Nov 12. 34. Print.

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One comment

  1. Great idea! Have you looked at the social media accounts of city officials to check how often they were updated? Also, as we discussed in class, how useful is this when people have limited cell service and no power?!

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monica byrne

writer . playwright . artist . activist . traveler

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