Desperate times call for desperate—and perhaps non-traditional—measures.
Hurricane Harvey has wreaked havoc in and around Houston as historic flooding continues.
Even as the storm had been blamed for several deaths, the full toll of the storm remained unclear. Officials warned that the danger was far from over, saying that the flooding in Texas is unlikely to recede quickly and that the storm will force more than 30,000 people from their homes. Federal officials, meanwhile, widened the emergency zone to Louisiana.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” Elaine Duke, the acting Homeland Security secretary, said during a Monday morning briefing in Washington. “Harvey is still a dangerous and historic storm.”
The National Weather Service tweeted:
— NWS (@NWS) August 27, 2017
As many caught in the storm’s path turned to Twitter for help, the U.S. Coast Guard told people to call instead of tweet:
— U.S. Coast Guard (@USCG) August 28, 2017
Several Twitter users criticized the directive, pointing out that those trapped with dying cellphones couldn’t continue holding to talk to authorities. Many offered to call for those tweeting their distress.
If you are trapped in Houston ‘and are in danger’ please tweet us your address and number of people with you so we can spread the word.
— The Reagan Battalion (@ReaganBattalion) August 27, 2017
Some have set up Twitter accounts just for the natural disaster to aid in recovery, and other people and organizations have tweeted lists of resources and alternative ways to get help:
— Harvey Flood Rescue (@HarveyRescue) August 28, 2017
— Discovery Green (@DiscoveryGreen) August 27, 2017
— American Red Cross (@RedCross) August 26, 2017
The Coast Guard’s request is understandable because using social media as a platform for emergency calls can lead to calls for help getting overlooked, misidentification, the spread of false information and even fraud .
For desperate people who can’t reach call centers or recharge their phones, however, social media may be one of the few options they have and requests for help spread on Twitter or Facebook have already helped several Hurricane Harvey victims, including residents of a flooded assisted living center in Dickinson, Texas . Reddit users have also been gathering information about the hurricane compiled mostly from Twitter in a live thread
Though to many PR pros, using traditional methods such as phone lines is a natural crisis response, Hurricane Harvey has shown how effective social media platforms can be in organizing and mobilizing response efforts—especially when traditional methods are clogged.
Spreading information more quickly
Beyond affecting rescue efforts, Twitter is also helping organizations in Harvey’s path to get out important information.
FEMA advised people in the Houston area to follow the City of Houston Office of Emergency Management on Twitter for updates:
— FEMA (@fema) August 27, 2017
The National Weather Service in Houston has been tweeting updates such as flash flood and tornado warnings in both English and Spanish:
— NWS Houston (@NWSHouston) August 28, 2017
Expanding the reach and effectiveness of donations
Twitter has offered people and businesses the opportunity to make a difference in the disaster relief effort through pledges and funds.
Organizations and public figures such as Amazon, Starbucks, “Good Morning America” and Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt—have tweeted their support and ways to help:
— Amazon News (@amazonnews) August 28, 2017
Our hearts go out to everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey. Join us by helping those in need. https://t.co/hcN3l1NC6V
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) August 28, 2017
— Good Morning America (@GMA) August 28, 2017
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) August 27, 2017
GoFundMe has centralized Hurricane Harvey collection requests on one page:
— GoFundMe (@gofundme) August 27, 2017
How have you seen Twitter used to support rescue and relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey?