Tag Archives: FEMA

The evolution of social media in Hurricane Sandy

Throughout the semester we have discussed the multipurpose of Information and Communication Technologies as it can be utilized in a variety of ways in efforts to promote development.  This past week we have focused on Social Media and its effect in the developing world. While we have studied articles about social media in time of war as well as social media as a tool to deliver a message trans-nationally, we have also discussed social media in times of a natural disaster. It is well known that natural disasters are a huge component of international development as they have the ability to endanger a population and impede progress. According to a report released by the World Bank, “natural disasters can wipe out development gains and eclipse years of development investment. While they occur worldwide, their economic and social impacts have been increasing and are generally much greater in developing countries than in developed ones” (World Bank   2006). In recent years, while many ICTs have been used towards disaster relief in developing countries, we have also observed an increase of the tool in developed countries such as the United States.

In an article discussed in class, written by Sara Estes Cohen and published in Emergency Management, the reader apprehends a greater understanding of the use of Social Media in Disasters. In this article Sandy Marked a Shift for Social Media Use in Disasters, the author discusses how Hurricane Sandy displayed a shift in the use of social media. “More than ever before, government agencies turned to mobile and online technologies” (Cohen  2013).  Prior to the hurricane as well as after government official utilized social media tools such as Twitter and Newsrooms to deliver the public with crucial information in order to maintain awareness of the community. The mayor of New York as well as the Emergency and Evacuation agencies continuously kept contact with the public. The staff members provided immediate responses to the questions asked via Twitter accounts as well as Facebook.  The public of the city of New York had an option to subscribe to text messages released by the Mayor’s Office Twitter account that allowed people to still receive information once individuals lost power along with access to Internet. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA also held a twitter account dedicated to live updates on Hurricane Sandy. According to the article, “on Oct. 29th, the day Sandy made landfall, FEMA reached more than 300,000 people on Facebook and reached 6 million Twitter users with one message” (Cohen   2013).  The American Red Cross also used social media tools to receive donations as well as promote relief.  After the Hurricane it was evident that social media became the major source of information for the general public.


The author of this article also discusses the challenges present with the use of social media such as rumors that spread around. She explains that rumors become a dangerous aspect of social media and can harm the public.  She thus concludes her article by claiming that while Hurricane Sandy did represent a significant evolution in the usage of social media it is important to introduce “standardized methods, new funding streams, and guidance. It is important to address the challenges so social media can be a tool for public safety in the future” (Cohen   2013).  This article is a perfect example demonstrating that social media can be used world wide in combined efforts to help all societies not just developed or developing countries.


US Government Informs and Readies Citizens to Thwart Cyber Attacks

Click here to go to FEMA Ready.gov website page and view how this government agency hopes to educate US residents to thwart cyber attacks by terrorist organizations.

Cyberterrorism and cyber-attacks are not a new development, but, have been evolving recently into an increasingly volatile and serious threat to many countries. While searching for information about cyber attacks for this blog post I came across the United State’s FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) page in which it hopes to educate and inform residents of the US about the nature of cyber attacks, what some of the greatest possible risks are, how they can affect the average resident, and what one should do before, during, and after a cyber attack event.

I found this page very informational. While many have a bad taste in their mouth after saying FEMA, I think they are being very proactive and forward thinking by trying to inform the general population of the risks of cyber attacks. Cyber attacks are not something that many individuals have in the forefront of their minds, and some may not even be aware of the concept at all. By making it clear that all are at risk for cyber attacks and that even someone who thinks that they do not have important information or connections can be at risk and put others at risk through the use of their computer to infiltrate other computer networks remotely.

I also think how FEMA chose to organize its page, with tabs for what to do before (preparation), during (reaction), and after (assessment) a cyber attack, is very smart. They provide not only information that might cause fear in some or nervousness (the possible effects of an attack), but, also how to mitigate and prevent these attacks from happening. As I have learned in Public Health, whenever fear is used as a way to influence people, it is important to provide ways in which individuals can react to that fear in order to have a project which has impact, and FEMA does just that.

FEMA goes one step further by providing additional information and ways in which individuals can stay connected and ahead on this issue by signing up for listserv’s about cyber security. As cyber attacks become more and more common and destructive it will be interesting to see what additional measures government agencies take to inform their populations about the threat.

#Sandy- ICTs Role in Hurricane Sandy

For the sector project this past week, our group presented on ICTs in Disasters and Humanitarian Aid. We described that ICTs can be used for disaster preparedness, disaster response and disaster recovery as a way to warn individuals, mobilize aid, coordinate stakeholders, and locate individuals- just to name a few. With Hurricane Sandy hitting the Northeastern United States this past week, ICTs played a key role in the preparedness and recovery processes. This blog outlines some of the key ICTs that were used during and after the storm to increase efficiency and minimize damage.

–          Twitter: Recommended by FEMA as one of the best ways to communicate and receive data. The Washington Post even ran a story on how to use twitter when you lose internet due to the high volume of users and capability for information dissemination. Also, Twitter s “promoted tweets” were donated to organizations such as the Red Cross so their vital information could be disseminated to twitter feeds across the country

–          Apps such as “Public Stuff” are donating their back-end resources to local governments to use for relief aid.

–          Tracking Apps- Apps such as the Red Cross were used to track the storm to enable individuals to be as prepared as possible for when the storm hit.

–          OpenStreetMaps: program utilized by New York City to allow residents to identify evacuation zones for certain areas to avoid confusion.

–          Maps/Tools: Google offered these services for disaster responders to coordinate need, location and resources.

–          Webcams: webcams were used to get live footage of areas to keep people updated on loved ones and to dissuade people from going outside and “checking”.

–          Open Content: News organizations such as the New York Times took down their paywalls during the storm and post-disaster which allows individuals to access these news sites for free and keep up to date without needing a subscription.

–          Text: Text services were opened up by FEMA to allow citizens to text a number to locate their nearest shelter.

Clearly, ICTs were heavily used in the past few days as the storm hit and in the immediate response. However, I think we will truly see these resources come into play as cities begin to rebuild and and the recovery process is managed and evaluated.

Truth in Disaster: “I can’t live without my cell phone”

        Cell phone use has become increasingly important in disasters to warn, react and recover. Phones, both fixed and mobile, allow messages to be delivered quickly and play an integral role in warning before a natural disaster. Mobile phones, specifically, have the capability to send Short Message Services (SMS), which can send data even when phone lines are congested and can quickly be sent to large groups of people. This choice of mobile technology for disaster preparation and response has been tested with the recent earthquake in Haiti when mobile phones helped coordinate humanitarian aid effort, find lost family members and stay up to date with news and conditions.

           This article from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti details exactly how cell phones and radios saved lives post disaster. Thomson Reuters Foundation’s AlertNet humanitarian news service provided residents with the first-ever Emergency Information Service that offered free, practical SMS messages. This service allowed Haitians to:

  •          Direct injured residents to open hospitals
  •           Help search and rescue teams coordinate response
  •           Information alerts through SMS (publicized through radio)
  •           Information to reduce disease risk, find missing persons and protect vulnerable populations

       One of the reasons that this ICT was so effective was the ability to get the SMS networks back up and running within almost a day of the earth quake. Free re-charging was also offered at local mobile carriers.

This experience of cell phones in Haiti prompted FEMA to issue a blog about using cell phones in an emergency here in the United States. FEMA advises citizens to:

  •         Store useful phone numbers (family and emergency)
  •           Utilize twitter through SMS without needing an account
  •           Bookmark useful mobile sites
  •           Backup your battery

Stay safe, stay charged, stay connected!