Blog by @julieyeats
Does Social Media have a place in government aid? Some say no, but during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina crisis, the U.S. government was heavily criticized for lack of leadership, mismanagement of resources, and a slow response to the flooding in New Orleans. Today, the government has the opportunity to use social media during and after crisis situations. Hurricane Sandy recently helped to shape a new, more human perception of how the government handles natural disasters.
Local government officials and organizations quickly used Twitter and Facebook to communicate with the public during Hurricane Sandy and continued throughout the recovery process. A few years ago during Hurricane Katrina, The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) didn’t have the resources to connect with thousands of victims of the storm. This time around, social media platforms like Twitter helped FEMA to disseminate pertinent safety information, survival tips and shelter locations.
FEMA re-tweeted other government organizations and the Red Cross to further spread important information to as many people as possible. They responded to tweets, letting people in need know where and how they could receive assistance.
Outside of the government, people are going back to the basics. They’re using Twitter for its intended use: as a communication channel. Twitter headquarters even put out an official blog post with a list of resources by each individual state that was being affected by the storm. In cases where victims had lost power and Internet, Tweet updates were still available through SMS.
FEMA’s use of Twitter exposes the public to the people inside FEMA in action, shedding new light on how the government reacts to natural disasters.
Government organizations like FEMA also embraced Facebook, and in the aftermath of the storm continue to post updates on recovery, safety tips, and resources.
Aside from Facebook and Twitter, a different social platform emerged as one of the top resources for sending messages during Hurricane Sandy. Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom released a statement with statistics pointing out that Instagram saw over 244,000 photos tagged #Sandy, more than 144,000 tagged #HurricaneSandy, and 23,000 tagged #frankenstorm. Nearly 10 images per second were being shared during the storm. The immediacy of platforms like Instagram and Twitter are powerful for sharing a story of devastation in real time.
So the question is, is the government’s use of social media during Hurricane Sandy causing a paradigm shift? In times of crisis, will individuals look to the government social media streams as an efficient source of help and information? Social media has changed the way the government responds to and handles crisis situations. Those organizations that embrace social media will ultimately be the most effective because they are truly in the business of humanity.
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