How Twitter emerged as a key comms channel during Harvey

Though the Coast Guard asked people to call, not tweet, for help, many turned to the platform seeking aid, spreading information and offering help amid and after the powerful storm.

Desperate times call for desperate—and perhaps non-traditional—measures.

Hurricane Harvey has wreaked havoc in and around Houston as historic flooding continues.

The Washington Post reported:

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:

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:

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.

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:

TechCrunch reported:

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:

The National Weather Service in Houston has been tweeting updates such as flash flood and tornado warnings in both English and Spanish:

Other organizations, such as the Corpus Christi Police Department , the City of Houston and Houston Police have turned to Twitter to keep citizens informed.

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:

GoFundMe has centralized Hurricane Harvey collection requests on one page:

How have you seen Twitter used to support rescue and relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey?

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