Tag Archives: Missouri

Missouri University Extension helps Branson Survivors via Facebook

Rebecca and Genevieve Williams of Neosho, Mo., the founders of Joplin Tornado Info facebook page, have created a Guidelines for use of Social Media for Disaster Recovery white paper with the aid of  David Burton, a civic communications specialist, at the University of Missouri Extension.  Below is an excerpt from paper about the use of social media during the recent late February tornado in Branson, Missouri. This section of the paper was written by Mr. Burton.

Branson, Missouri: February, 2012

A University of Missouri Extension storm recovery resource named “Branson Tornado Info” on Facebook grew to 14,000 followers just 12 hours after the tornado struck Branson on Feb. 28.

Actually, the page was put in place back January by David Burton, civic communication spe- cialist for MU Extension in southwest Missouri. “I created three new pages on Facebook at that time for Branson, Springfield and Greene County that are modeled after the success we had last year with the Joplin Tornado Info and Missouri Flooding Info pages on Facebook,” Burton said. The Joplin Tornado Info page is still very active, with more than 48,000 fans.

Facebook users can “like” the Branson Tornado Info pages to find out how to help and to learn about emergency and cleanup work from the organizations and groups doing the work.

These pages are designed to be a collaboration of state, federal and local agencies and organizations involved in the affected areas. The pages are managed by MU Extension but public information officers from various organizations and community volunteers with media backgrounds can serve as co- administrators, following a model used after the Joplin tornado.

The Hilton Hotel at the Branson Landing, just six hours after a tornado hit Branson on Feb. 29, 2012. This photo was taken by Amanda Smigiel, a nutrition assistant with MU Extension.

In fact, by March 2, the page had 11 volunteer administrators. The two most active volunteers have been Rebecca and Genevieve Williams, the mother and daughter team from Neosho, Mo. that were behind the establishment of Joplin Tornado Info. Persons willing to serve as administrators on these new pages should contact David Burton at burtond@missouri.edu after liking the Branson Tornado Info page. He will then send you the guidelines for the page and instructions on getting set up as an administrator. Having co-administrators who post information and check facts on what others post is important and was a key to the success of the Joplin Tornado Info page according to Burton.

“I logged in to Facebook at 5 a.m. on Feb. 28 and saw that this page had jumped from two fans to 50 before I even knew there had been a tornado hit Branson,” said Burton. “I got the word out to the media via email and we got things rolling. Before the end of that first day we were up to 14,000 followers. As we saw in Joplin, social media is a great communication tool during disasters especially because of Smart phones.”

The goal of the site administrators is to make sure posts are official in nature and researched. In other words, the official information is unbiased and research based, in keeping with MU Extension’s mission.

“On Branson Tornado Info, we don’t collect money for our own efforts and we shy away from organizations that are merely collecting money. We don’t post links about fundraisers, or groups selling shirts, trinkets and such. Instead, we link to sites that have collected information in lists, tables or officials reports and we answer posted questions. We learned in Joplin that if we are posting some new every five minutes the volume of the information will drive away followers and will unsubscribe. That defeats the purpose,” said Burton.

As of March 2, the page has nearly 17,000 followers and 12 administrators who have some clear goals and guidelines. Accolades for the page, and the quick response by MU Extension, continue even today. The news media has shown a lot of interest in the Branson page. “Branson Tornado Info” was written about in an Associated Press story that was used nation wide and also featured in an Associated Press radio story. Page administrators even had calls from reporters in Canada. But the local resident who was impacted by the storm was always the primary focus of the site and local people appreciated that fact.

Posted on Facebook by Susie Davidson

“Facebook was great after the tornado for those of us without power and could only charge our cell phones while driving. I had no other source of news and was so grateful for the City and others who got info posted here.”

University of Missouri Extension has a website that containing MU Extension resources that could be helpful to homeowners, landowners, business owners, emergency responders, volun- teers, partnering organizations and others with a direct or indirect interest in emergency prepar- edness and response. The information on emergencies and disasters from MU Extension is available online from MU Extension at http://extension.missouri.edu. (Screen shot below).

This publication was edited and designed by David Burton, civic communication specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

Joplin Missouri Survivors reflect on use of Social Media

English: Boone County Fire Protection District...

Image via Wikipedia

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.