Hurricane Irene was our 50 year storm – maybe a 100 year storm. As she approached in all her fury, Nassau and Suffolk County governments put their emergency plans in action – setting up mandatory evacuations, shelters etc. But, during the onslaught, it was social media that gave people the instant, up-to-date intelligence that they needed, whether it was information about conditions in their villages and hamlets or safety information regarding power outages.
We were in a mandatory evacuation zone here in Baldwin Harbor. At the time, I thought it ridiculous that Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano ordered us to leave. In retrospect, it was an excellent decision – especially for those just north of us and in Bay Colony. The flooding was horrific. However, I knew that 1) our home’s elevation was between 13-16 feet, thanks to Trails.Com 2) High tide was at approximately 8:30am with 3.9 feet above sea level (thanks to Tides 4 Fishing). Add the storm surge of 3-6 feet predicted for the South Shore and we knew we would be fine because our elevation was higher. We got our kids out to Westchester to stay with our inlaws and we were determined to save our basement, by running our pump in the sump pit. Our neighbors just north of us were not as lucky as their elevation was a mere 7 feet. One of my neighbors across the street did not have this vital information, evacuated and now has 6 inches of water in her basement.
Saturday evening into Sunday morning, I live-blogged at the Long Beach Patch.Com site. We shared information as to what we were seeing as Hurricane Irene started to affect New York and Long Island and government officials soon discovered us. Amazingly, they asked us to tweet essential information to get the word out and we did. @SuffolkCountyPD did an excellent job of getting us up to date info to share. It was comforting that dark and scary night to talk to others and share stories as Hurricane Irene bore down on us. Could also have been a lifesaver – it is where I heard that a tornado warning went into effect in Baldwin, Oceanside, Freeport and the barrier islands at 4 am to 4:16am. That was the longest 16 minutes of my life as we waited anxiously for this unexpected threat to pass.
People turned to social media in droves to find out what was happening in their local neighborhoods and how they fared from the wrath of Hurricane Irene. Pictures and video were posted of the damage incurred on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. We checked on each other to make sure our friends and loved ones made it through. One friend was trapped up at Windham, NY and through Facebook, friends sent updates as to the status of the NY Thruway so they could finally make it home yesterday, after a grueling 8 hour drive. LIPA tweeted its news briefing yesterday to let residents know just what was going on with power restoration and we shared that with everyone who didn’t have power yet. Government officials and agents regularly communicated with us through Twitter and their Facebook pages – providing not only up-to-date information but a place for people to vent and voice their concerns.
For our area, I think Twitter and Patch.Com were the best communicants of pertinent information. Twitter, with its 140 character limit, allowed Tweeters to post concise information with links that was easy to organize into searches and lists using hashtags. Patch.Com continually posted on their site, as well as Twitter and Facebook, updates as to what was happening in local Long Island neighborhoods. However, Facebook and YouTube provided the human interest side of the hurricane. People shared their pain and loss with each other through posts, pictures and videos. Those who posted that they thought the storm was over-hyped were quickly countered with pictures, videos and stories of homes swept away, horrific floods and death.
We were the media this past weekend and I think that those who thought that social media was just for fun are now realizing the magnitude of its influence on how we communicate and share information.