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Tag Archives: Tornado
Posted on July 8, 2011
Post by: Kim Stephens
The massive tornadoes that struck Alabama and Missouri in late spring and early summer didn’t spare public school buildings. In Joplin, the school system suffered major damage. They also lost some of their students and staff: seven students and one staff member were killed. (These deaths occurred off-campus. The tornados struck in the evening.) I often discuss how social media is used during a crisis, but what is not often highlighted by me or others is the great contribution social media make in the recovery phase–after the national media have left and the spotlight is taken off of the crisis. Joplin Independent School District provides a great example of how organizations can use the medium as a platform to pinpoint specific needs, reach out to those who still have an interest in helping, and demonstrate their progress and resilience, e.g. “We will open our school August 17, 2011.”
In order to tell the story of their recovery, I will highlight some of their experiences during the height of the crisis. I was able to reach the Communications Specialist of the Joplin’s school district, Casey Owens, who provided great insight to their social media presence, goals and policies both pre and post disaster. Of note, they were using social media for communications before the tornado. In particular, it was used at the district level with only a few people allowed to post content. The content was generally geared toward highlighting overarching district success stories, or what she called “notables,” and announcing cancellations and other community-at-large information. Since the High School has so much information on its own, they are currently in the process of developing a page just for them. This is a pre-crisis post.
But after the tornado, their facebook page has become one of their primary means of communicating with the public, much more so than pre-event. In fact, in the immediate aftermath of the tornado it was their ONLY means of communication.
Ms. Owens indicated that their website and email services were hosted on a local server which had either spotty or no service at all for at least a week. Sheer volume made cell phone service unreliable. Therefore, the communications department accessed facebook (and twitter) from home computers outside of the impacted area, and this was the only reliable source of communication. As an aside, Ms. Owens noted that the primary audience of their twitter account was most likely the media versus the local population.
I have mentioned in earlier posts that social media are the new flagpoles, the place were people rally in order to be accounted for after a crisis. This was also true for Joplin, ISD. In the immediate aftermath, they asked both staff and students to post information about their well-being directly to the facebook site. One of the first posts requesting this information received over 300 comments.
By May 27, 6 days after the storm, they had accounted for 97% of their staff and students.
Almost immediately, posts started to address how people could help with recovery. They also asked people to tell them what their needs were.
Interestingly, most people that commented to this post were still indicating that they were OK. Of the 97 comments only one requested assistance.
The district however, understood that there would be needs that had to be met, and with offers of donations pouring in, it was necessary for them to figure out how to organize the recovery effort into a systematic process. At this point, Joplin ISD turned to a program that was also in place (although somewhat recently) pre-tornado, called Bright Futures. The Bright Futures program is an innovative solution to try to increase their district’s high school graduation rate. They determined a child’s academic career cannot be viewed through tunnel but rather a prism. In other words, when is a child ready to learn? They aren’t ready to learn if they show up to school in flipflops in freezing weather, or if they are going hungry on the weekend, or if they don’t have any books in their home, or if they are homeless…the list is endless. The program utilizes social media to broadcast needs (without compromising the identity or privacy of the student) in order to find community resources that can meet those needs. Their facebook page lists their pre-crisis mission: “This program will serve as a vehicle to deepen community involvement in the Joplin School District’s efforts to tackle poverty issues and improve student academic performance. This will be accomplished through various partnerships.”
I asked Ms. Owens what impact social media had on the program. She indicated that the impact was profound. Their initial goal was to try to meet a student’s needs within 24 hours. With social media, the needs are met within MINUTES–literally. In fact, they ended up with a different problem, many community members were disappointed that they were not able to contribute because the needs were met so quickly. Therefore, program administrators developed a list they keep off-line of people who want to help and what resources they have available. One interesting example of the program in action, a disadvantaged family’s water heater stopped working, the Bright Future’s staff found a company willing to donate the parts to fix it and another person who could do the labor to make the repairs.
After the tornado struck, the Bright Future’s program is now doing the same mission but on a much larger scale: matching resources (which have come from all over the country) to needs. They allow people to post to the wall on the Bright Futures facebook page and after the tornado these mostly involve people describing what they are willing to donate. The program uses the site to post unmet needs as they become known. Needs can include everything from eye glasses to bikes and even, on rare occasion, housing needs for homeless children. Again, each of these needs are met within minutes.
On a broader scale, they have created an adopt-a-classroom program whereby people or organizations can contribute items for a specific classroom. They also have an “adopt-an-eagle” program, in order to ensure that all students school supply needs are met. Watch this great video on the overall program–which also highlights their use of another social media platform, YouTube. As a take-away lesson I think the most important thing another school district could learn from this example is the importance of having social media in place before a crisis. During a disaster or crisis event is no time to learn.
I’d like to thank to Ms. Owens for the wealth of information she provided. I hope you all continue towards a speedy recovery.
Posted on April 30, 2011
Post by: Kim Stephens
I often find myself explaining twitter to people who have never used the micro-blogging platform before, or at least haven’t used it very much. I find it a little like to trying to explain what an elephant looks like to someone who’s only seen the nose. But what occurred to me while reading the twitter feed after the devastating Southern storms, is that reading them was like reading a book written by 100s of people: each phase of the disaster is a different “chapter” and each tweet is one sentence in a paragraph. Sometimes the sentences are out of order and sometimes they don’t make sense until you read the entire page but, nonetheless, each one sheds a little more light on the plot.
How do you choose which book to read? The hashtags associated with each tweet organize the information into “books” if you will suffer with my analogy here. #ALwx stands for Alabama weather and by following that tag, you don’t even need to know or follow any of the individuals tweeting the information. For more insights into the definition of hashtags see the Twitter Fan Wiki definition.
I would like to use this horrible crisis to continue the analogy, but in no way do I mean to trivialize it. Rather, I hope to shed some light on what types of information is conveyed through the platform.
Chapter 1: Take Cover If an event has a warning, as this one did, you will find in the twitter feed many personal safety messages as well as information about the storms’ track. Most of these originate from government agencies, for example FEMA, NWS, local news stations and local public safety agencies. This tweet, for example started with FEMA.
But citizens also add their own observations.
Chapter 2: You Should be in a Shelter NOW! During a major storm event, the most common tweets are those describing the storms’ location. Notice how information about damage is reported simultaneously and almost instantly.
Chapter 3: Destruction
Pictures such as this one of Gardendale, AL start to show up in the twitter feed instantly, as soon as the storm passes. This pic was posted by a local news organization to their feed, but they received it from a citizen via twitter and yfrog.
Chapter 4: One Voice Emerges
During this recent crisis, James Spann, a meteorologist from ABC 33/40 TV, became the main storyteller. With over 25,000 followers of his own, and many people re-tweeting him, the website Tweetreach estimated that he reached 30,981 people with each tweet. The information he disseminated was original content based on NWS weather data, information people sent him via @ messages (such as donation information), and retweets of other info he found pertinent. This actually makes him more of a content curator, similar to the role Andy Carvin of NPR played (and continues to play) during the Mid-east peace uprisings.
Chapter 5: We will Recover.
Recovery often begins with gratitude and with people figuring out ways to help each other. The twitter feed for this “chapter” is no different. It is also a great place to find stories of hope, such as the tweet about a 8 year-old boy found alive after being sucked into a tornado. I also loved the story of the man finding his dog alive even though everything else was a total loss.
Many tweets point people to where they can donate to the relief effort either monetarily or physically, e.g. with manual labor to help clean up.
I understand that twitter takes some getting used to in order to be able to “read the book”. But once you get the hang of it, it’s really a hard one to put down. If you’d like to donate to help out all those affected here’s the link to the American Red Cross mid-Alabama chapter.
- Tornadoes and storms in the USA (lg10e.wordpress.com)
- Tornadoes and storms rip through South, more than 220 dead (scientificamerican.com)
- Obama Tours Alabama Storm Damage: “I’ve Never Seen Devastation Like This” (blogs.abcnews.com)
- Craziest Tornado Video Yet Shows Scope Of Tuscaloosa Storm (mediaite.com)