Disaster Preparedness: Why You Need Twitter (and lists)

All in one weekend, Sandy threatened the East Coast and a M 7.7 quake occurred right off the coast of British Columbia (add a 5.8 aftershock and tsunami advisories for the West Coast + Hawaii). Several minor quakes in southern California made the news as well, both M 3.9, and a M 4.2 shook up the central California wilderness.

Twitter is the voice of the people, and it is also becoming the voice of help and reason (if you follow the right people). Communication is difficult in times of a major disaster, and social media can sometimes be more effective means of person-to-person communication. For instance, one tweet saying “help I’m trapped in my house” can be seen by way more people than just one, increasing your chances of aid.

Who to Follow

FEMA has taken the responsibility of disaster preparedness and relief to social media, in addition to its other efforts, especially with Hurricane Sandy. Check out their Twitter updates and Facebook page – it is the information you might not know you even need, and that is the best kind. They also have regional Twitter handles (@femaregion9, for example) for more tailored information.

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Here are some other handles you might want to follow. I would advise building a “list” on Twitter just for these guys just so you do not have to sift through other, random tweets:

@RedCross (The American Red Cross, follow their regional handles too)

@NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

@USGS (United States Geological Survey)

@ShakeOut (Global Earthquake drill)

Again, let me please emphasize that many of these organizations have regional or divisional Twitter handles such as NOAA’s National Weather Service @usNWSgov. My list is certainly not comprehensive, but it is a good running start for you to later pick/decide/add any other organizations you feel are important.

Recommendations

1) Sign up for Twitter via SMS. This eliminates the need to use the Twitter app or mobile site, and gives you a greater chance in case of an emergency to communicate since SMS takes way less data than the Twitter app on a smart phone.

2) Organize people and agencies of importance into Twitter lists. You may also want add your favorite local news service into our lists, or creative a separate list for local issues. Building Twitter lists is truly a powerful way to manage what matters most to you. Organize your closest friends and family into a list.

3) Determine if an autoscheduling app like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck could help you reach more people in case of an emergency. You could send one update that would reach multiple platforms and one person – with way less data required.

4) Document and take photos. This helps organizations like FEMA and the American Red Cross determine where help is needed. Tweet and post them if you can – this helps immensely.

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What else would you recommend for social media in times of a disaster? I would love to hear your comments!