Sunday, August 31, 2008

Social Media and Emergencies (like Hurrican Gustav)

In late August, 2005, the southern United States got to experience Hurricane Katrina. Now, they're looking at Gustav. We watched the tsunami on TV. The earthquakes in Japan, India, California. The wild forest fires on the West Coast.
With all the social-networking, social-media tools that are out there, what are we doing to leverage them in the wake of disaster and emergency relief?
During Katrina, the now-defunct, moblogging site, "Textamerica", used cameraphone images, some Red Cross volunteers, and the power of networking to reunite families that were separated or lost during the evacuations and rescues. Since Textamerica is no longer available (I have one contact from there still...hoping he comes through with an article I can link here), I'm looking at how other social networks: Facebook, Plurk, BrightKite, and especially, Twitter, can help before, during, and after Gustav.
Picture this:
You've evacuated New Orleans, and are staying in a hotel for a few days. Of course, you brought changes of clothes, food, all your legal documents (right?), and multiple forms of currency (credit, checkbook, cash). You also grabbed your cellphone, laptop, and camera (and all the chargers!), and notified your family and friends where you'll be staying.
Now, during times like this, internet, phone, and cellphone towers get backlogged (especially if datacenters are flooded out or without power). You might be able to rely on a hotel's wi-fi, but truthfully, your cellphone is your best tool. SMS or text-messages get queued so they almost always go through, whereas a voice-call will just fail. By checking in to Twitter, a family can post news reports, location, images, and more to their network. More importantly, people who are looking for them can use to find their family, friends, etc.
A few more tips for leveraging social media in the event of an environmental, terrorist, or other emergency:
  • Use BrightKite to "check-in" to a location. Have it forwarded to Twitter. Also allows you to post notes, images, and see others who are checked in nearby.
  • Have IDs/account #s memorized (or, if you trust it, scanned as images onto your phone or camera).
  • Use Gustav's Ning: as a central hub for all hurricane-related information.
  • Be ready:
Any more tips? I pray everyone in the southern states shelter and safety over the next few days and coming weeks. Following the storm, I plan on looking at social-media as a way to help the cleanup efforts.

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