Here are some ways social media can help in the coming days as Hurricane Sandy affects the eastern seaboard:
- Alert friends and family: The most simple and obvious use for social media is to let others know what is happening. A simple tweet or Facebook post is sufficient to let hundreds of concerned friends and family know you are in one piece. The American Red Cross has a Hurricane app you can download to your Android or iPhone, including features for alerting loved ones you are safe. The phone app also includes checklists for protecting yourself and your home, features to turn your phone into a flashlight or strobe light and methods for finding nearby shelters. The Red Cross also offers a way to register yourself as "safe and well" so that others can search and find your status.
- Ask for help: Of course, if you are not safe and in need of assistance, social can also help there. When emergencies strike, phone lines can be compromised and emergency phone centers can become overloaded. So long as your phone is charged and mobile service is available, you can always tweet for help--many local emergency government offices have twitter handles, and you can always enlist your Twitter and Facebook friends for assistance. Following last year's Japanese earthquake, U.S. Ambassador John Roos used Twitter to communicate with Americans in Japan; upon learning of eighty people trapped in a hospital, he alerted authorities. "It was incredibly effective," he said of Twitter.
- Stay informed: Twitter is an incredible hub of information right now. Here are some accounts to follow to keep up to date about evacuations, mass transit suspensions and other important information:
- Office of the New York Mayor: @NYCMayorsOffice
- New York's official emergency notification system: @NotifyNYC
- NOAA National Weather Service: @usNWSgov
- National Hurricane Center: @NHC_Atlantic
- @FEMA has a number of local accounts to follow, depending on your location, including @DC_HSEMA, @PhilaOEM, @nycoem and @CityofNewarkNJ
- Local power company updates available from accounts such as @DomVaPower and @PSEGdelivers
- Connect with your insurance company for updates, assistance and phone numbers. Accounts to follow include @usaa, @StateFarm and @allstate.
- Local news sources, such as @NBCNewYork and @nbcwashington
- Other resources:
- Google map of New York area evacuation zones and shelters: http://google.org/crisismap/2012-sandy-nyc
- Mobile National Weather Service Site: http://mobile.weather.gov
- A list of webcams you can access online to see what is happening from Long Island to Virginia Beach: http://qz.com/20761/watch-these-webcams-as-hurricane-sandy-hits-the-us-east-coast/
- Watch for #Hashtags: There is no such thing as a hashtag issuing authority, which means they tend to spring up organically. Already dozens of different localized and topical hashtags are in use, such as #sandypets, #sandynj, #nhsandy and #sandycenpa. In this year's Colorado wildfires, spontaneous hashtags appeared (such as #HighParkFire and #FlagstaffFire) to keep people informed about fire status and support needs.
For other good tips, check out USAA's "Why You Need a Social Media Disaster Plan." If you have other social media tips to help prepare for Sandy, please share them. And if you have an interest in how I am faring in Jersey City, NJ, feel free to follow me at @augieray.