Tag Archives: Joplin Missouri

“Information Aid”: As important to disaster survivors as food

Post by: Kim Stephens

After a disaster, the flow of information on social networks is often thought of and discussed in terms of what is coming from the impacted community. We debate at length the value of this content, its veracity and how the first responder community could or should use this type of data. However, what is not discussed as often is the information being provided to the survivors and its impact on their recovery.

Social media have democratized the ability for people to provide what Patrick Meier calls “information aid” or  “information relief” to impacted communities (it is his notion that information is as important as food). This in turn has created a new kind of volunteer, a social media “content curator”.  A study in Australia, published by the Australian Journal of Emergency Management,  looked at this type of activity after the January 2011 flooding and cyclone events and found that citizens who start community-based social media pages (particularly facebook in this example) act as filters and amplifiers of official information for those that were impacted (see the example of this from Missouri). They conclude that not only does this type of activity help provide survivors with timely public safety related information but also enables a sense of “connectedness…both to loved ones and to the broader community, providing reassurance, support and routes to assistance.” They call this  “psychological first aid” which aims to “reduce initial distress, meet current needs, promote flexible coping and encourage adjustment.” See this article for more info about psychological first aid. Their study is one of the first of its kind to look at the role of social media in this capacity and they found that people not only relied on these community pages for information, but that it did make them feel connected to others, encouraged by help given, and hopeful. Of note, the responses for feeling “suspicious or mistrustful of the information” were very low (4 and 5 %).

Content Curators

Although this type of volunteer is starting to become more formalized with efforts by organizations such as the Standby Crisis Task Force, CrisisCommons, and Humanity Road, it also can happen in a very spontaneous and, at first, unorganized manner with a person simply starting a Facebook fan page at the outset of a disaster. This example repeated itself again and again this year, and is best exemplified by the 18 year old girl that started a Facebook page in Monson, Massachusetts while still hunkered down in her basement as a tornado passed overhead. The page was titled simply “Monson Tornado Watch.” It grew to be one of the main sources of information for their town’s citizens as  volunteer organizations and regular citizens alike embraced it as a place to post any and all information they could find regarding response and recovery activities. Very quickly, one-fourth of the entire population became a “fan.” This page is still up and continues to be a place where people congregate virtually to provide and find information about recovery, as well as a place to connect and support each other.

Another great example of this type of social media spontaneous content curator  is from Joplin, Missouri, where many different people and groups started community-based pages with the intention of amplifying official information for survivors. One  facebook page, “Joplin Tornado Info” or JTI , even resulted in a guide: “Using social media in disasters“. JTI was started by a mother and daughter team with no public information or emergency management background. However, they understood the need for standard operating procedures, which they developed and detail in the guide.  Although the guide does not address the psychological reason behind the desire to start this type of facebook page, they do state that they simply wanted  “to be a clearinghouse for information, aid communication, and resources, not to champion any specific organization.”

Another reason their efforts were successful was due to their understanding of the scope of information they should be providing. “Ideally, a page covers a single  affected community.  Otherwise,  the information to be gathered and communicated  becomes  impossible to provide in a meaningful way to your  audience.” They also understood that people were often accessing this information on their smart-phones, sometimes while on their property cleaning up–not sitting at a computer watching the social stream. Therefore, their strategy was to repost vital contnet so that it didn’t get lost. “Timelines move fast, so reposting the same information during the day is a good idea.”

In conclusion, as emergency management organizations grapple with how to deal with this type of spontaneous volunteer, it is worth keeping in mind  what the authors of the Australian study found:

“…social media in this context is not to replace face-to-face support or contact, or to replace official warning services, but it can expand capacity to deliver information, extend the reach of official messages and limit the psychological damage caused by rumours and sensationalised media reporting. A mix and balance of official and informal information sources and communication channels is likely to be the best way to enhance emergency management capability.

Empowering individuals and communities to help themselves through provision of accurate, timely and relevant information and a mechanism to connect with others are fundamental needs that social media can deliver. The dynamic and organic nature of social media is such that pages and sites take on a life of their own. Self-regulation and careful administration are elements that serve to ensure that the sites that succeed are those that listen and support the needs of their users.

Joplin Missouri Survivors reflect on use of Social Media

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This post is a story of the “Joplin Tornado Information” Facebook page and a reflection of what volunteers accomplished in the aftermath of the F5 tornado that roared through their town in 2011. Although much of the town was torn apart, the human connections actually grew– in part because people were able to use information communication technologies to come together virtually, as well as in person. This volunteer effort demonstrates what can be done with hard work, a few ground rules, and social media.  They reached out to me to share their story.  They also developed a “Social Media for Disaster Reovery Field Guide” which I will put up in a separate post.


“Joplin Tornado Info was created and managed by 23 year old Genevieve Williams, Neosho, Mo. less than two hours after the May 22nd tornado. JTI was honored as one of seven nominees for a 2011 Mashable Award in the Social Good Cause Campaign Category.”

Guest Post by: Rebecca Williams


May 22, 2011 7:26 p.m.

First Joplin Tornado Info post

We heard the KSN news anchors beg people to take cover, and then take cover themselves…It was obvious Joplin was being hit by a tornado.  Neosho and Joplin are close-knit communities and only 16 miles apart. How bad was it in Joplin?  A friend that works at St. John’s Hospital posted on Facebook it had been hit. How could we find accurate information about what was going on?  We searched the internet and found virtually nothing of help. We don’t remember for certain how it happened but within the hour at my coffee table using an iPhone, Joplin Tornado Info was born. When the page was started we had no idea we had just signed on as a communication link for one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.  By sunrise the morning of the 23rd, the breadth and scope of what had happened became clear.

Across town, unbeknownst to us, a friend Joel Clark  launched  joplintornado.info website. None of us can remember exactly how we connected and merged JTI Facebook with joplintornado.info but it happened within the first 48 hours.  People ask what was different about the Joplin response and what led FEMA to applaud the rescue and recovery. I would say the can-do and help-your-neighbor attitude of the people of the area, the on the spot response of area faith based organizations, the overwhelming support of the people of the region and the nation, and the presence of social media were deciding factors. This is the story of one social media outlet:  Joplin Tornado Info.

The tornado hit at 5:41 p.m. At 7:36 p.m. Joplin Tornado Info Facebook page made its first post, went viral, began connecting dots between needs, resources, transportation, storage and dispersal and had become a trusted, timely news source.

The first days and even weeks after the tornado remain a blur, we have pulled out the worn legal pads that were JTI, (as it came to be called in those early days) and watched YouTube videos of the KSN tower cam footage and Red Cross volunteer Marie Colby’s video among others and talked about how it was at JTI after the tornado,  to remember. Almost a year has passed and there are still not words to express what happened during Joplin’s early recovery. The dazed look on the faces of survivors is haunting.

We quickly reached over 49,000 fans. It all happened so fast and just as fast there were people helping us.  Several groups and individuals such as the group of people that went to the computer lab at Crowder College and continuously posted critical information to JTI were unofficial admins of the page and vital to our efforts.

From the beginning we relied on the JTI community to post and repost for the good of the Joplin effort. Jennifer and Michelle both reached out from Alabama that first night to help. Volunteer admins signed on and others just took it upon themselves to help. JTI was a community page and early on people responded. Within hours we also had admins and or points of contact from all of the utility companies.

Relief organizations, Churches and news sources began posting on our site as well. We made every effort to read and answer every post. JTI pages moved so fast at one time that it was necessary to repost vital information often or it became lost in the Facebook newsfeed. We monitored all available news sources and reposted to JTI.

We didn’t sleep much during those first few weeks. We devoted every waking minute to JTI and coordinating efforts to connect the dots for the next two months. We were not alone in this; many people in our area put their lives and livelihoods on hold to do what they could for Joplin.  There was such an overwhelming response to the need in Joplin and supplies came in so fast that FEMA the Red Cross, and other major organizations quickly became overwhelmed. Through JTI overflow storage was coordinated by Royce at the Galena High School Football Field. Royce became a vital part of JTI as we routed donations to area storage and dispersal locations. Solace, a youth based church on the fringe of ground zero with an average age of 24 and attendance of less than that went from evening service to relief center in the blink of an eye. People of the area did what they could when they could. Back in the day, if your neighbor’s barn was on fire you dropped what you were doing and ran to help your neighbor put the fire out. Joplin’s barn was on fire and area people responded as they had for generations.

In the beginning many of the community posts were people searching for missing loved ones, asking about shelter and water. One memorable post was the joy we had notifying people that huge water trucks were pulling in to memorial hall, to bring containers and get what you need. Water was off throughout Joplin and these trucks were such a blessing. JTI was not about fluff. Many survivors were literally hand to mouth. As we posted, food, water, bandage, clothing locations people texted our posts to survivors at ground zero who relied on cell phones texts for all outside communication. We accepted no donations, endorsed no specific church, charity or organization. JTI is a community page with no affiliation or loyalty to any group or entity. JTI made every effort to post timely, concise, accurate, unbiased information.

My daughter, Genevieve and I came to realize that in this region none of us are more than a degree of separation from someone who lost their life in the tornado. We all know someone who died personally or we know someone who knew someone. When locals speak of the tornado now, we don’t ask “were you affected”? We have come to realize that this was a regional tragedy we were all affected.

Our mourning for those we lost will go on as long as we do. Out of our grieve and necessity the tornado aftermath has given birth to change, innovation, invention, entrepreneurship, volunteerism and philanthropy that many of us were unaware was within us. Folks in the area take the tornado and recovery in stride and continue to look for ways to help those in need. Joplin and area folks are reaching out today to our neighbors, Branson and the several other communities hit by the Leap Day Storm, doing what we can and lending our experience. We are working in conjunction with David Burton, University Mo.-Extension, JTI admin since nearly the beginning from David had the foresight to set up 3 tornado info facebook pages in advance. One of these pages was Branson Tornado Info which by sad coincidence was put into use in the Leap Day Storm and quickly went viral with over 16,000 fans in 48 hrs.  A free downloadable PDF “Social Media Use For Disaster Recovery-a field guide” is being released and will be linked on the JTI page.

As of this writing, the beginning of meteorological spring March, 1, 2012,  JTI has had­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ 87,112,786 post views from over 20 countries and languages. After peaking at just over 49,000.  Nine months after the tornado  JTI retains 47,754 of its original fans despite continued multiple daily posts. Our remaining 47,000 plus fans have a combined social media reach of 10 million people.

December List: Rebuild Joplin

Post by: Kim Stephens

Anyone who follows me will not be surprised by my choice of Rebuild Joplin for one of the top SMEM examples of 2011.

The story: After the EF-5 tornado ripped through  Joplin, Missouri  affecting thousands and killing 162 persons, community leaders not only had to deal with the crisis at hand, but also a veritable tsunami of donations and volunteers. Matching needs to these resources,  however, can be an overwhelming task unless there is a system in place. Joplin  did have a system via an existing program in the school system called Bright Future.

As I wrote in this post, Bright Futures’ pre-crisis mission was simply to connect the needs of impoverished students with resources in the community with the overarching goal of increasing graduation rates.  Social media facilitated this transaction by communicating needs and allowing for a conversation to take place with community members wishing to help.  Organizers found that they could find the resource for a child, such as a pair of shoes, within a matter of minutes after posting. The social platform also allowed for both thanking the donor and to stopping further donations or offers by making it known that the need had been met.

Post-crisis,  Rebuild Joplin was launched to do this same type of service community-wide.

What they did right:

  1. Used an existing framework both community leaders and citizens were familiar with.
  2. Verified organizations accepting monetary donations before  they were authorized to be listed on the site. This fact was (and still is) prominently posted.
  3. Provided multiple ways for people to find the information, including tying  the website to their social media presence and embedding their Facebook feed via a widget on the site’s homepage.
  4. Designed a process that allows for a multitude of organizations to register themselves on the site.
  5.  Sorted registered organizations into a beautifully designed intuitive, and tabbed interface that allowed donors to quickly find who is accepting what they wish to contribute.  See example above.

I don’t think it can be said that every single item or in-kind donation was processed through this site during this event, (which is in the long-term recovery phase at time of writing) nor was their social media presence the only one facilitating donations (many sprung up organically). I would also like to see a way to  pull in more information via twitter feeds, however, as a model for donations management, this is a darn good start.

Using Social Media to Aid Recovery

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Post by: Kim Stephens

The Social Media and Emergency Management chat last Friday, July 29 focused on SM and recovery and was moderated by Pascal Schuback, an emergency manager from a large county in Washington State. The transcript is 31 pages long–we were chatty.

My favorite question:  “Recovery is always a challenge to work prior to an event? How are we preparing tools/protocols/training & awareness before hand?” Of course this question is much broader than just the use of social media, and speaks to me about civic engagement in general. I think @tusnamisteph was correct in pointing us to the recent post by ICMA: “Can Social Media Reinvigorate Civic Participation?” Before a community has experienced a disaster it is sometimes difficult to get  in-the-flesh participation (unless, of course, the issues involves taxes–but that’s a different blog). Increasingly community leaders are turning to social networks, including online public forums, in order to gain input and insight from those they serve.

Social sites are important because most static city or county web pages provide very limited capability for engagement, e.g. “send an email” doesn’t allow for a conversation. (See this blog post by a local gov official in England-How digital tools can help connect a Mayor.) Even with these tools, however, the ICMA article points out how input is sometimes still limited to a few, very active individuals (maybe just a few more than normally show up in person).

But these same local governments need to be prepared for the marked increase in the level of input and desire to participate after a crisis.  This is where the “preparing tools” question is salient.  If your community is not using these tools before an event it will be more difficult to implement them afterwards–although not impossible.  Including citizen engagement, I see 3 ways web-enabled communications help in the recovery process.

1. Matching Needs with Resources

The town of Joplin (which recently suffered a historic tornado) provides a great example of how recovery is increasingly social. My favorite example, which I’ve mentioned before, is Rebuild Joplin. This site, which is designed as collaborative platform, lists as its partners the City of Joplin, Joplin Schools, and a multitude on non-governmental organizations. This list also reminds us that it’s really more about relationships than it is about the tool. Their stated goal: “...to support the long term recovery efforts of Joplin residents and businesses. This effort is strengthened by a collaborative approach. RebuildJoplin.org is a central location for finding six recommended local funds that are committed to the long term recovery of Joplin.”  Affected community members are not only able to quickly find access to donated resources but the FAQ tab is a literal one-stop-shop of information. People can find links and advise about all aspects of recovery from “Do I need to sort my debris?” to “What documents will FEMA need from my insurance?”.  For those wishing to donate, a list of community needs and reputable organizations are listed.

Rebuild Joplin also has a Facebook page with over 7,000 fans. Their presence is open, allowing anyone  to post to their page; the posts currently up are completely appropriate, involving information about donations or community recovery events.

The question for communities: Can you build this type of platform before an event? Some are people are trying to do just that, including Pascal Schuback, the chat moderator, who indicated that he is building a site using Ushahidi software. Another person, James Hamilton of Cecil County, Maryland, is looking into a Ushahidi deployment as well, and I’ve also heard rumors about something similar in Northern Virginia. Would these sites be publicly available pre-crisis? Pascal indicated that his would. I think if a site, similar to Rebuild Joplin, was able to list community needs as well as community resources everyday–people would use it and respond favorably. Site administration questions would need to be ironed out, however.

2. Gaining input from Citizens

Facebook has also played a small role in how the community is gaining information for its Citizen Advisory Recovery Team. After the in-person meeting announcements were put up on a local news organization’s FB page, people posted their comments straight to that site. These comments were mined and fed into the final draft. I wonder aloud why they didn’t ask for these comments on their own “City of Joplin” FB page where the event was also announced? Providing an opportunity for citizens to give their input virtually is even more important after a crisis because some members of the population may be displaced and temporarily living in another community. Their displacement, however, would not diminish their desire to have their voices heard.

The city’s own Facebook page, nonetheless, is being used as place to post recovery information and, to a limited extent, as an informal forum for people to ask questions. Another interesting point is that the page is the City’s page, not one of its agency’s, such as local Emergency Management. (Who’s page to use to broadcast recovery info is another planning consideration.) 

The City’s FB page also connects people who are interested in helping with those who need assistance–although recently they posted that there are more volunteers than there are needs.

3. Allowing for Micro-Donations

Another great aspect of social media and recovery is the ability for horizontal distribution of resources, by which I mean the ability for donors to give goods or funding straight to organizations they are interested in helping. This is in stark contrast to a vast “recovery fund” and allows people to really target their donations. This sort of giving reminds me in a way of micro-loans. For example, there is a FB fan page explicitly to collect donations for the Joplin High School band.  They are using the FundRazr app on the site which allows people to donate as much or as little as they can.

Even school districts are posting info on their social media sites about how to donate directly. 

In conclusion, since this has gotten to be a very long post, I can sum up the sentiment from the chat in one sentence:  have a plan in place for how you might use social tools for recovery…start before a crisis.

Related articles

Joplin Tornado demonstrates Social Media’s 5 key roles in disaster response and recovery

Post by: Kim Stephens

The storms in Joplin, MO serve as yet one more reminder of the important roles social media play in a crisis. It seems after every event social media serve these same 5 or 6 functions:

1. Documentation of the event.

Photos and videos are usually the first thing to start coming across the social media “wire”.  This is not lost on the national news media. This tweet above is by NBC Nightly News and they ask people to”tweet or email us your photos & videos”. The Missouri government has also asked for people to send in their pictures and videos:

But there were plenty of pics circulating through social media immediately after the event.  Here is an interactive photo stream that has some very dramatic shots, including of the hospital that took a direct hit.
The picture above was shared through twitpic and is of tangled semi-trucks,  illustrating the power of the storm. Click here for a larger image. (Picture via twitpic @cris34k) The YouTube video that seemed to be the most widely circulated was one with little images at all. It’s popularity (over 37,000 hits at time of writing) is probably due to the shear terror in the people’s voices. One of my fellow twitter friends pointed out that the video also demonstrates people’s ability to remain calm and help the others in the room. Listen to it yourself, but be prepared to tear up.

2. I’m safe! and 3. Where are my friends and family?

In the immediate aftermath of the storm people in the impacted and surrounding area found trying to use the regular phone lines an exercise in futility and turned instead to social media and texting. This was mentioned briefly in an article about the storm in “The Wichita Eagle” newspaper:

Phone communications in and out of the city of about 50,000 people were largely cut off. Travel through and around Joplin was difficult, with Interstate 44 shut down and streets clogged with emergency vehicles and the wreckage of buildings…

Some people [on social networking sites] were quick to post that they and their families are OK, or to get the word out that loved ones are missing or homes were destroyed. Others found themselves without access to phones because of overburdened phone lines, but able to text and use social media.

For those who were not able to find their loved ones immediately, the American Red Cross has also set up a “Safe and Well” website. People can register themselves as safe and family members can search through the registry. This information has also been widely circulated through social media sites. It seems not everyone is using the Safe and Well resource, however. There are many places to find people asking for information about their loved ones. Some are just simply tweeting the name of the missing and asking for folks to (RT) retweet the information so that it reaches as broad and audience as possible. And, almost every social media site I visited has some element of missing persons.

One Facebook page that was created to assist people find loved ones is entitled: Joplin Tornado Citizen Checks : neighbors helping neighbors. This page was stood up less than 24 after the storm and already has almost 3000 “likes”.  The info tab does not give any description of who created the page, but under the content tab it states:

If you are looking for someone- please post ONE thread in the Discussions, with the name and general location of the person in the title. Others, please scroll the discussions to see if you have any information about people being searched for.

I’ve seen many, many postings from out of state family members asking about the elderly or those who live alone. We need a grassroots effort to help neighbors out. Please post where you are located, and someone can post on your comment if their family member lives nearby enough for you to check. We need to help each other!

Here is an incomplete list of hospitals that took St Johns patients and people injured in the tornado:

  • Integris Baptist Health Center in Miami – 918-542-6611
  • McCune Brooks Hospital in Carthage 417-358-8121
  • St. John’s Hospital in Springfield 417-820-2000
  • Via Christi in Pittsburg 620-231-6100
  • Barton County hospital in Lamar 417-681-5700
  • Labette County hospital in Parsons Ks. 620 421 4881
  • In addition, people have been found in Springdale and Kansas City hospitals.

4. Where to get/give help.

This function via social media is just gearing up (less than 24 hours after the storm), but with that said, there’s already quite a few lists of where to donate items and where to receive help. The State of Missouri itself is working to build a list of aid dropoff locations and sent out the following tweet:

 @mogov Working to build a list of aid dropoff locations for #Joplin, any help is appreciated:http://bit.ly/lzkrp9 #MOneeds#MOhaves

On Craiglist a Joplin Tornado Volunteers List has been created that has aggregated information about the storm to including useful Facebook pages and crowd sourced maps. This “Joplin Tornado How-to-help”  page set up by msnbc.com, however, seems to have an even better list of online resources.

One Facebook page entitled: Joplin, Mo Tornado Recovery is up and running and has almost 73,000 “likes”. I honestly can not tell what organization has put this page up, but the “about” page states:  “Find out how to help those suffering from the Joplin, MO tornado. To find disaster information, shelter information and referrals, please call 211…”  So far this page mostly has posts from well wishers as well as people interested in helping and asking about what items are needed and where to go, etc. There is also a mix of people mentioning loved ones that are missing.

A  crowdmap powered by the Ushahidi software has also already been stood up, and as of writing, reports include information about donated items as well as information regarding where to go to volunteer.  There are also reports of people missing. Here’s a sample:

  •  “Golden Paws Pet Resort is accepting animals that need shelter because their owners have lost their homes.” 
  • From Twitter: Meek’s #Joplin has Emergency Supplies (Water, Chainsaws, Tarps, ETC) available & is open. 
  • Volunteer reception site set up at Missouri Southern State University at the Beimdiek Recreation Center.
  • “Cat litter and pet carriers needed. Phone number…” 

5.  Recovering Lost Items (Pets, and in this case Hospital records!) 

One very interesting aspect to this disaster is the personal hospital record data that was strewn across 60 miles. One person on twitter indicated it was a HIPPA nightmare. It seems that people are being honest about wanting to return the found items and St. Johns will be using their facebook page to direct people on how to do that. As you can see in the item below, right now they are telling people to just “hang on to these items at this time”.

Lost pets are always an issue after a crisis and social media helps people find their lost furry or even feathery loved ones. The facebook page Animals Lost and Found from Joplin, MO, Tornado  has over 2000 “Likes” less than 24 hours after the crisis, and as of time of writing, has people posting to the site about once per minute. The site includes a lot of people posting that they can foster animals and that they are willing to help in other ways as well, and of course, there are some pics of missing and found animals. This site doesn’t seem to be hosted by the humane society or the ASPCA, but does appear to be modeled after the Animals Lost & Found from the Tornadoes in Alabama on 4/27/11 (which has over 32,000 likes).  I can’t help but wish people would post their credentials to these facebook sites, or at least write on the info tab who they are. Nonetheless, they are popular and they appear to be doing a good job.

One last item, that might be the most important of all–government agencies are reminding people that they should not self-deploy to the scene of this crisis: