Tag Archives: Hurricane Sandy

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.


Twitter Trends in Disaster Response

This past September, the HEROIC (Hazard, Emergency Response, and Online Informal Communication) Project Team, a research team hailing from the University of Colorado, and the University of California-Irvine, recently released a study in which they uncovered twitter trends that occur in the light of natural disasters. They completed their study based on the occurrence of the Waldo Canyon Fire that occurred in Colorado this past June. The fire impacted more than 32,000 residents of the Colorado Springs Area, and resulted in more than $352 million in insurance claims. From the start of the disaster, there were a recorded 100,000 related “tweets” from over 25,000 Twitter users. Following the study, the HEROIC discovered some valuable information regarding the trends of tweets during disasters: 1. Original content is most often produced by local-organizations and then re-tweeted by non-locals. 2. Inclusion of URLs shows that response organizations recognize the need to have additional information available outside of Twitter. 3. Highly active government organizations get the most followers following an event, and the largest of local organizations come in second.

While these types of findings are not groundbreaking by any means, what I think they provide is appropriate tools for us to learn how to use twitter as more than a social media outlet, but more so as a tool and catalyst to disaster relief. The study can definitely help local and national organizations not only better their tweets, but also the timeliness of them and exactly what they should say in order to get their message across as effective as possible. With that being said, I hope they can redo these studies in light of more impactful natural disasters that had more national repercussions such as Hurricane Sandy, because I don’t feel like this specific study covers the whole breadth of twitter as much as I would have liked them to.

The Dangers of Social Media: False Rumors

Hurricane Sandy devastated the east coast this past week, and social media played a huge role in recovery and information about the storm. However, not all of what was shared on social media was helpful to hurricane relief. Some of the pictures and stories that were shared were false. Along with many false pictures, one with the Statue of Liberty being consumed by a tidal wave, there were many false reports being spread about the conditions of the city after the storm. One of these reports was that the stock exchange was flooded with three feet of water. This was shared widely, and many people believed that the storm was far worse than it was, causing fear for many people who had friends and relatives in the affected area.

Although many people spread many different types of erroneous rumors, one culprit on Twitter was found to have been spreading the most prolific false reports about the hurricane. This person goes under the Twitter account name, #comfortablysmug. He made up the story about the stock exchange and made up several other stories about the metro systems and electricity in New York City. Recently, he was revealed to be hedgefund analyst, Shashank Tripathi. Tripathi’s false and shocking tweets were retweeted several hundred times. Although he has apologized for the false tweets, these tweets left a mark on the effects of social media on disaster relief. While social media can be very helpful, it can also hinder relief as false rumors can spread. It is important for people to remember to look for credible sources for their information following up a disaster.

Read the full article here.

Google Crisis Response and Hurricane Sandy

As we all know, social media played a huge role in preparing/educating the public for Hurricane Sandy. After doing a little more research, I found out about a feature on Google called Google Crisis Response. Google Crisis Response makes information regarding natural disasters and humanitarian crises more accessible. For example, the Crisis Response features satellite imagery of the disaster area, outreach, Google Person Finder, and other programs created with the intent of organizing disaster response resources and information. Not only is this feature (Crisis Response) available in the US, but it is also available worldwide in many different languages. I was particularly intrigued and impressed with the Person Finder- a web application used to ‘connect friends and loved ones following a disaster.’  The Crisis Map is used to display the storm paths, shelter locations, and power outages (just to include a few). All of the Crisis Response applications/features seem very beneficial for aiding those affected by a natural disaster. For Hurricane Sandy, I found their Crisis Map for “Superstorm Sandy.” The Crisis Map included a special NYC map and a more main map encompassing a broader area. Gas Stations were an especially important feature on the maps- as the map indicated via legends whether or not gas was available/ inventory was low/ or completely out. It also had legends for shelter and recovery centers (Red Cross, FEMA, etc). The map included many other things as well, please click on this link to check it out yourself!

Crisis Map_Sandy

The American Red Cross iPhone Application for Hurricane Relief

While researching this week for examples of social media that was used during Hurricane Sandy I came across an iPhone application that was created recently by the American Red Cross to provide resources for iPhone users in the path of a hurricane. The application offers resources such as:

  • “Safe and Well”
  • Food, Water, and Gas Locations
  • Warming Stations
  • FEMA Disaster Center Locater
  • Tips on how to prepare and recover

The application also has a Hurricane Sandy branch that is specific to the Northeast region. In this part of the application, users can track Sandy, find region-specific advice such as where to locate warming stations, and even address the emotional health issues that can come with being a victim of a natural disaster.

The most interesting part of the application addresses communication during disaster. The “Safe and Well” feature was created by the American Red Cross prior to the release of the iPhone application, and was available on their website. People can enter their information into the program so that others that may be searching can locate other displaced peoples. This is a great tool for older generations that may not use tools such as Facebook and Twitter to update their information and communicate with others.

Those that were hit by Hurricane Sandy reviewed and criticized the application, listing it as “indespensible” during the storm, but also listing areas of improvement. For example, some said that after the storm hit, information was not updated often enough. This is a crucial time for users to recieve constant updates while suffering the effects of the storm. Furthermore, there is the issue of the device requiring the GPS locator to be activated on the phone. This drains battery much faster than normal, and this could present an issue especially in a recovering region that may not have electricity to recharge the battery.

I think that this application would have been very useful during Hurricane Katrina. Katrina hit prior to the surge of Facebook and Twitter, and therefore the significant amount of displaced peoples would have greatly benefitted from easy access to the Safe and Well feature. The application also offers a communication tool for those that are affected by the disaster. Users can write about their experience, offer bits of advice for others suffering from the same storm, and provide support. I think that with improvements made after critiques from Sandy users are addressed, applications such as this may play a vital role in future disaster relief.

To learn more about the Red Cross iPhone app, click here.

Restaurants in NYC Adopt New ICT Management Technologies

Hurricane Sandy recently caused immense destruction to the eastern seaboard of the US, especially in New York and New Jersey. The epicenter of restaurant culture in the USA, New York City was especially hard hit by the storm. Restaurant owners found themselves reeling from the impact, loosing thousands of tons product, having issues with workers unable to get to their jobs, infrastructure, and loss of power.

During this disaster restaurant owners and managers found themselves reliant on a major ICT technology, their mobile smartphones, to assess, report, and react to destruction and issues that arose from the storm. Although this worked to some extent, many are looking at the storm as a message that they must update and revise their emergency plans. One of the major areas mentioned was figuring out a new line of communication non-reliant on mobile phone towers, which while they did not fail during Sandy, were an area of worry for owners.

While many restaurants may not be able to reopen because of costs and damages experienced by the storm, many will use this as a learning lesson to fix issues that they encountered. The inclusion of new ICTs in managing their restaurants during disasters to avoid loosing revenue and product. One manager, who was running operations over his mobile phone in the gym bathroom, was resolved to create a communication center for emergencies for all of his restaurants.

Click here for the link to the NYT article on NYC restaurant’s managers reactions to Hurricane Sandy destruction.

Hurricane Sandy and how Social Media influences Information Dissemination

Our guest speaker this week talked about the different ways social media and ICTs can be used in a disaster setting, and, since it was extremely topical, how these technologies played a role in Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. One thing that we talked about in class that was interesting, was how things like twitter and facebook were key in getting information to people who were experiencing the hurricane, as well as to their family and friends elsewhere. Those two platforms also played a role in disseminating false information about the hurricane, its severity, and the aftermath. There were photoshopped pictures floating around, false rumors about sharks in lower manhattan, and just absurd tales in general coming both from the outside and causing hysteria for those there.

One of the benefits of things like facebook and twitter, especially in places like Syria and other regions of the middle east where most things could be censored and/or monitored by the government, is that these websites are completely a part of the private sector, and peoples opinions and thoughts can be voiced completely freely and unencumbered by fear of censorship. This has been incredibly useful in situations like the uprisings during the Arab Spring, but can be disastrous in an emergency setting. The amount of fake stories and pictures before, during, and after Sandy were extremely detrimental. Not only did they increase the amount of general hysteria among the population, but some such articles and pictures were gotten a hold of by the mainstream press, causing more hysteria not only in the effected area but all over the country as people were getting false information about what was really happening. It doesnt seem clear what effect it had on relief efforts, since organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross were relying on more reliable sources such as government publications or direct reports from the ground. It doesnt seem clear how possible it is for facebook or twitter to develop a way to verify information that has been posted without infringing on people’s basic rights, but there needs to be something done to lessen the amount of false information flying around, especially in disaster situations where it could end up exacerbating the stress of everyone involved.