First, let’s stop and take a moment to send love and light to the people of Joplin, Mo. who have experienced the most deadly tornado in U.S. history. When I saw this story this morning, it made me think about the role social media has played after natural disasters- Joplin Globe’s Facebook page locates, reunites missing people in tornado aftermath.
Following the Japan quake this year, sites like Twitter & Facebook played an important part in helping to connect displaced families- Social Media Plays Vital Role in Reconnecting Japan Quake Victims With Loved Ones. Social media has also played a key role in Haitian recovery efforts, still ongoing today.
The role of social media in the wake of natural disasters is still unclear, but sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can be of great value when tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters strike.Social media-
- Provides valuable information to those in a disaster area pre and post disaster (via Internet, if available, or SMS updates).
- Drives awareness to those outside the affected areas, generating volunteers and/or donors.
- Connects displaced family & friends.
- Provides information about unclaimed property, and in worst case scenarios, bodies.
- Offers information about aid, centers and other resources available to those affected.
All of this thinking about social media and natural disasters makes me think back to Hurricane Katrina. I personally connect with this pre-mass Facebook, pre-Twitter disaster as a Houstonian. After watching the horrific scene unfold for days, I will never forget when the buses from New Orleans began arriving in Houston around 1:00 AM on September 1, 2005. At the time, I lived down the street from the Astrodome. My heart broke as, unable to stop watching the news, I observed a news reporter ask a Red Cross representative what Houstonians could do to help. I will never forget the reply, “We don’t have enough supplies, we don’t have enough clothes, we don’t have enough volunteers. Please get out of your bed and help.”
I grabbed a trash bag and ran into my closet, throwing in clothes, still on hangers. I called my boyfriend and then neighbor to tell him that I was going to the Astrodome. He quickly came over to escort me, concerned about my safety.
As we parked on Fannin, I was shocked at what I observed. Inside the Astrodome gates, were thousands of people, newly arrived from New Orleans, looking as if they had escaped a war zone. They looked confused, scared and grateful at the same time. More shocking was what could be seen on the street, outside of the complex. I looked around and saw a couple people getting out of old, beat up vehicles with food in containers. I saw a man who could have been named “Uncle Roscoe” barbecuing next to his rusted parked truck, giving hot dogs and buns to the newly arrived storm survivors. Right next to his truck parked a Mercedes utility vehicle. The occupants, including two young blond children in pajamas, unloaded cases upon cases of bottled water for the evacuees. Houstonians were showing up in droves with food, clothes, water and hugs. For a moment in time, political affiliation, socioeconomic standing, race, culture and religion did not matter- Houston showed up to help. I wonder how much more we could have done had we been able to utilize Facebook, Twitter and YouTube…
It doesn’t take a social media strategist to start a Facebook page or to begin tweeting to help a community during its time of need. If a disaster ever strikes near you, and I pray that it does not, use social media as a tool. It truly connects us all.