In the wake of Hurricane Sandy we discover the important role of Social Media and Mobile Technology during a natural disaster

Uncategorized Posted Oct 31, 2012 by chenpr

Over the past few days as the East Coast endured the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, we remembered the things that are truly important in this life – our loved ones, and a solid roof over our head. And as cities went dark and families were driven from their homes, we learned once again what a powerful source of information social media and mobile devices are and how essential they are in times of disaster. All across the East Coast are shining examples of how social media and mobile technology were used to reach those affected by the Superstorm’s devastation.

Photo via Sprout Social

As reported by Yahoo News, Emily Rahimi, Social Media Manager of the FDNY manned the department’s Twitter account throughout the duration of Sandy in order to provide information and aid to desperate New Yorkers. She told Yahoo! News, “I was just tweeting to people who were not able to get through to 911.” She even contacted dispatch for a man who tweeted the FDNY saying, “My friends’ parents who are trapped on #StatenIsland are at 238 Weed Ave. Water almost up to 2nd flr.” Needless to say, Rahimi served as a voice of relief and support to many scared New Yorkers.

The Red Cross is another example of innovation in technology for responding to disasters. Reuters reported that at the organization’s DC headquarters, six wall monitors displayed streams of updates and call for aid on Twitter and Facebook. They even used a visual heat map to indicate where posts from those seeking help were located and’s social media monitoring tool, Radian6, to spot tweets and posts from those who needed help. The Red Cross used all of these tools to guide how they used their resources. In the Reuters articles, Wendy Harman, director of social strategy for the Red Cross said, “We found out we can carry out the mission of the Red Cross from the social Web.”

Other voices heard through Sandy’s howling winds included New York Governor Andrew Cuomo(@NYGovCuomo), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (@FEMA), and @NotifyNYC, an account handled by New York City’s emergency management officials. All of these handles, along with Facebook pages, were outlets for officials and organizations to issue evacuation notices, give updates, answer questions, and reach those in need of aid.

We all know how much we rely on the Internet and reaching it through our smartphones on a daily basis. However, it is in times like these that we learn to appreciate all that our devices and social media can do for us in a time of need. In fact, one friendly New Yorker learned just how important our smartphones are in staying informed and connected… and how appreciative people can be of a couple of outlets.

Photo via BuzzFeed

Over the past two days, as the CHEN office sat in the dark, I wondered how much worse the result of Hurricane Sandy might have been without innovation in technology and communication. I know from a personal standpoint, I would not have been able to reach my friends in NY and NJ and known they were safe if it weren’t for Twitter, Facebook, and our ability to communicate through these channels with our smartphones. In the wake of this devastating event as we give thanks for the safety of ourselves and our loved ones, I think it is also appropriate to give thanks to social media and mobile technology, and the ability of the latter to help ensure the former.