The role of social media in the coverage of natural disasters continues to evolve as its popularity skyrockets. Twitter was in its infancy when Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2006 and Facebook and YouTube were still relatively new platforms. Today, these top social media platforms have millions of users worldwide and play a significant role before, during and after natural disasters like Hurricane Isaac. Utilized by everyone from disaster relief agencies to the victims of the harshest storms, social media connects people in crisis the way traditional media cannot.
Social media’s reach, and its 24/7 accessibility made possible by smart phones, make it an invaluable resource when people at risk need information to stay safe. Smartphones give users constant access to their social networks and have changed the game when it comes to disaster preparedness and response. Groups utilized social media in a number of ways during Hurricane Isaac; here are our top three:
1. Victims Shared Their Experiences
After Hurricane Isaac hit, people used Facebook and Twitter to post pictures and videos of the aftermath. During the brunt of the storm, many victims used social media to call for help, while other users offered words of encouragement to victims and shared their own experiences.
2. FEMA Joined the Conversation
In the days leading up to the arrival of Hurricane Isaac and after its landfall, FEMA posted over 100 Isaac-related tweets on its Twitter page. The organization also utilized its Facebook page to share safety tips, weather updates and photos and videos of their hurricane preparedness and response efforts.
3. The American Red Cross Released the Hurricane App
The American Red Cross posted safety tips on Twitter and Facebook, but the organization took its social reach one step further by creating a hurricane app. The application offers tips on hurricane preparedness and first aid, maps shelter locations, and gives victims a way to get in touch with their families post-storm. The app also links to social media platforms, allowing users to share information with their friends and followers.
Television news teams once covered stories of flood-damaged homes and their devastated owners hours after storms ended. Now we receive these stories in 140 characters or less as they happen.