Post by: Kim Stephens
The blizzard of 2013 is still causing problems from New Jersey to Maine at the time of writing. Although recovery from the storm is far from over, I’d like to look at Massachusetts specifically and make some observations about the role social media and web-based communications played (and continues to play) during this event.
1. Public organizations, as well as elected officials, provided great service announcements to encourage people to help one another. My favorite was a Tweet from the Mayor of Boston asking people to be a snow angel, not just make one.
They even took it a step further by asking “How are you being a Snow Angel today? Use
#BOSnowAngel to share a photo of your good deed.”
2. Sometimes the message was simple: “I don’t know.” This post on Facebook was from Mass 2-1-1 who defines themselves as “an easy to remember, toll-free telephone number that connects callers to information about critical health and human services available in their community, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
One thing Mass 2-1-1 might have done is linked to the private utility company’s Facebook page, which brings me to #3.
3. Utility companies definitely bear the brunt of much of the public’s ire in the aftermath of disaster events, and this one is proving to be no exception. This storm also provides an age-old lesson in how to handle some of that anger: no comment. One look at the Nstar’s page will give you an idea of some of the vitriol that can be spewed when the power is out, even for a day or two. This simple statement on their page elicited over 200 responses, quite a lot of them angry.
“We expect to have all customers restored by Thursday night and will have community by community restoration times available tomorrow. Our crews will continue to work around the clock until all affected customers are restored. Please stay away from downed power lines and assume all lines are live. Thanks for your patience as we repair the damage from this devastating blizzard“
Although this post seems innocuous, people felt that the restoration rate was way too slow. One person started a fire storm by stating the following:
“I just observed TWENTY SEVEN trucks parked at Dunkin donuts in Falmouth. I have an infant and no power for 48 hours with no end in sight. Some sort of estimate would be extremely appreciated. I am a healthcare worker that’s been working for 30 of the past 48 hours I’m cold, hungry and cranky. My patience is wearing very thin…”
I think they handled it well, however, by letting the public defend them versus jumping into the argument. Often it is a worker’s family member that is the most animated with statements along the lines of “Hey–they are working hard, I haven’t seen my husband in three days!” An example of someone coming to their defense is provided below. This somewhat inelegant statement both defends the company but also points out what everyone would like…more information.
4. If you build it, they will come…and maybe crash your site. The International Business Times reported before the storm that Boston was promoting their snowplow tracking website called SnowOps Viewer that would allow citizens to track snow removal by location by zooming in on the map as well as by inputting an address. This is possible because all city plows are equipped with GPS devices. Other major cities including New York (PlowNYC) and Washington DC have similar systems. The problem, however, was that so many people went to the site it crashed under the weight. This is the message even today, Feb. 11: We are experiencing significant traffic and the site is currently unavailable. We are working to resolve these issues. Please check back later. Thank you for your patience.
Every disaster seems to teach us that sending large amounts of people to your website is not a great idea, unless you have done significant load testing beforehand. I hope they sort out what went wrong soon!
5. Boston has operationalized Twitter. Twitter, unlike their snowplow website, remains up with no problem and Bostonians have been encouraged to send a Tweet to @NotifyBoston to report problems such as unshoveled sidewalks or disabled vehicles. One look at the exchanges taking place there shows that it is obvious the city is taking the citizen-reported information very seriously and wants to hear about problems (see an example below). The @NotifyBoston feed also includes information for citizens as well, including advisories, closures, and storm updates. (I wonder if or how Mass 2-1-1 and
@NotifyBoston are coordinating their efforts and sharing information? That will be a question for future posts.)
What are your observations, let me know.
- Nemo, Social Media, and Swimming (thefarmclub.net)
- Winter Storm Nemo: Share Your Blizzard Pictures (newswatch.nationalgeographic.com)
- Tweeting Nemo: The Weather Channel storms social media (metrowestdailynews.com)