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Coming Together After Disaster With Social Media

Friday night and I’m home flipping between the Undercover Boss and the telethon benefiting the Red Cross in the wake of Hurricane Sandy,which affected many people on the East Coast. The hour-long telethon “Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together” featured performers who came from places affected by the storm including Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi from New Jersey,  Billy Joel from Long Island and Christina Aguilera and Mary J. Blige from New York City. As telethons go this one was brief and only lasted an hour but it did raise $23 million.

This natural disaster hit home for me, as it was only 5 years ago that I lived in New Jersey, over an hour’s drive to the Shore. I have happy memories of summer weekends at Seaside Heights and cannot believe the devastation that beach town has gone through.

Seaside Heights After Hurricane Sandy

photo credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region via photopin cc

I followed the #sandyhelp hashtag through the night and so it got me thinking about some of the great ways Twitter can help in the aftermath of a natural disaster. We’ve seen it in action during the 2011 Japan Earthquake/Tsunami , the 2009 Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) that affected the Philippines, and many other world events.

Twitter and other social media channels have definitely become invaluable tools in time of crisis and natural disasters.  It helps that Twitter can be accessed with mobile phones, and that means not having power is not a hindrance to its use. Though Twitter (and other social media including Facebook, for that matter)  can sometimes be a great time waster, used for good, social media is a powerful instrument that can create positive outcomes.  Even President Obama knows this — on Tuesday, he @barackobama hopped on the Red Cross @redcross Twitter account as a volunteer to thank people for their support.  Read the tweet here.

According to social analytics firm Topsy, over 3.2 million Tweets with the hashtag #sandy were sent in 24 hours. More than 20 million tweets were sent containing the words “Sandy” and “hurricane,” as well as the hashtags #sandy and #hurricane between Saturday, Oct. 27, and Thursday, Nov. 1,

Here are three major reasons why Twitter is one of the best social media channels during a natural disaster.

1.  Twitter is one of the quickest and most powerful ways to keep in touch

Uncertainty is one of the worst things that happen during a disaster. That fear of not knowing if a loved one is safe can drive one insane with worry.  Without phone lines and computers, a quick tweet of reassurance can help.

And speaking of help, although Twitter is a great way to get attention for someone’s plight, this week,  the Fire Deparment of New York  @FDNY had to remind New Yorkers to call 911 in an emergency and not to tweet for help.

2. Twitter is a great way to broadcast and disseminate information.

When power is out and all conventional ways to communicate are down, social media can provide the means to disseminate important information about shelter, food, roads, aid etc.

Twitter even blogged a helpful list of resources as Hurricane Sandy was getting ready to hit.

3.  Twitter is a great means by which people can come together.

In 2009 when I was a virtual Twitter newbie, I tweeted about my homeland the Philippines in light of the catastrophic Typhoon that claimed hundreds of lives and displaced thousands. I wondered out loud on Twitter about feeling helpless and broached the idea of a fundraiser. Not long after a local cafe @ParadisePerks tweeted back that we could use her cafe as a venue for a show. In two weeks, a friend and I had organized a benefit show and raised money that we sent to the typhoon victims through a non-profit organization.

Here’s some Bon Jovi to end this post, recorded during the NBC Telethon to Benefit the Red Cross for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.