Social Media for Disaster Communication

Social Media surprised me this week.

In case you live on the left coast, I’ll update you with the many natural disasters we here on the right coast have faced recently: swamp fires, earthquakes, and hurricanes (no locusts….yet).

The fire has been burning for months. We’ve seen an increase in hospital admissions for respiratory issues of heart and lung patients. Their PRN albuterol inhalers are not doing the trick. Apparently the smoke particles are so small that they creep into the house ventilation systems, so even if you stay inside, you still may be exposed to the smoke. Depending on the direction of the wind, some days at the hospital feel like our building is next to the fire. Experts were saying the only thing that could put out the fire was a hurricane (enter Irene).

The earthquake took us all by surprise. Some people thought they were having a stroke.  Personally, I thought I was about to pass out as the building swayed. Patients were horrified, and family members rushed out of the rooms to validate it actually happened. “Was that an….earthquake?”

We had a long week to prepare for the hurricane. Irene, at one point, was projected to be somewhat of the Perfect Storm. She was supposed to make landfall as a Category 3. We lucked out when the storm was downgraded to a category 1 hurricane as it arrived. Five (or more) people lost their lives in the midst of the storm.

When the earthquake hit, everyone on my unit yelled, “SOMEONE TURN ON THE NEWS!” Of course, nothing was immediately on the news. The earthquake just happened seconds ago. Then it dawned on me. What is a media outlet that is forever updated in real time? I said, “Check facebook”. Within seconds, there were already hundreds of posts of my friends saying “EARTHQUAKE!” What surprised me was the geographical locations of my friends who felt the quake. Friends in Washington DC, friends in NYC, friends in Maine! Already I knew this must have been a huge earthquake (huge for us here on the east coast).

My local news channel’s Facebook page provided me with more information during the hurricane than the local news channel itself. Residents of all the areas around me were posting questions, comments, and photos of damage and flooding around the area. I realized my neighborhood was flooding before I saw it on the news.

I was shocked when I found out on Facebook that the swamp fire continues to burn even after Hurricane Irene.

I always knew I liked social media. This week I found out why.

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