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“The Cavalry is Assembling”: Social Media’s Response To Hurricane Ida (& Beyond)

November 11th, 2009 · No Comments

Jeannette Sutton has a terrific post on her Disaster Sociologist blog, “The Cavalry is Assembling: Two Social Media Responses to Hurricane Ida.” She describes how two different online initiatives — the Hurricane Information Center and — began mobilizing to respond to what was initially predicted to be a major storm.

In the end, Ida ended up weakening and did not have as serious impact on the U.S. as originally feared. Nonetheless, Jeannette’s post offers some nice insight on the increasingly central role that social media will play in disaster response:

The Hurricane Information Center was established during the heydays of the Democratic National Convention in August 2008. As the Convention was winding down, a Ning network was established to facilitate a distributed network of volunteers who could bring together disparate sources of information into a single online platform of technology mashups.

More than 500 people participated in this effort. They identified relevant Twitter feeds; annotated maps with evacuation routes, shelters, and available resources; linked to updated news stories; and edited a hurricane Wiki in real time. In true crowdsourced fashion, this network organized itself, invited newcomers with various levels of expertise to participate, and requested assistance with identified tasks.

The value of the information available through the Hurricane Information Center existed in its resources available to those looking for real-time information. The wisdom of the crowd, its collective intelligence, and self-monitoring behavior led to an example of a real-time, online, collective action taking that rivals examples of on the ground convergence routinely seen in disasters and crisis events.

Now, as Ida ramps up, the Hurricane Information Center has re-activated itself. Today, network founder Andy Carvin of NPR, sent out a call for help through an email blast which was repeated across various network participants’ personal blogs and through Twitter networks. It’s as if the horn has been sounded for the cavalry to assemble and they are preparing to mount their horses for the long ride into a potential disaster.

The second group to sound the alarm is This website, launched by a Seattle start-up company, brings together newsfeeds from government, news, and the public and adds a number of sign-on features such as the “I’m OK” notification system. Here users can use the Emicus website to send text messages to their predetermined network, relaying the message that they are OK.

This hurricane season may be the first proving ground for Emicus, which was developed in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma (2005), and Gustav and Ike (2008). The Emicus professional staff, which works out of offices in Florida, Seattle, and San Francisco, will serve as the dedicated team to monitor and relay information posted on the website.

Two dedicated groups – one comprised of volunteers across the country in a crowdsourced effort, the other developed on an enterprise model – are both preparing to deliver safety-critical information in this impending hurricane. Observations of the efforts and output should not go un-noticed by those who are interested in learning more about the wisdom of the crowd and the uses of social media to prepare, respond, and manage disasters and crisis events.

As Jeannette points out, the Hurricane Information Center and Emicus are innovators in the use of social media in disasters. One challenge going forward is to spread awareness among the public of social media’s capabilities during disasters in advance so when the bugle is blown next time more citizens know how and where to assemble.

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Tags: Hurricane Preparedness · Preparedness 2.0 · Preparedness Models

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