Can social media save lives during a catastrophe?

Photo Courtesy of notablelife.

Latanya Jamison
Staff Writer

 

Can social media play an instrumental role in saving lives?  Social media may have only been introduced to society in the last few decade or so but this platform has solidified it position the lives of millions. Social media platforms are used for various purposes, but it’s intended use was simply connecting. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, have shown that it is possible be constantly connected to friends, family and the world. However, recently social media platforms have begun to use their ability to connect to others to spread awareness to those affected by recent natural disasters.

A historic hurricane rips through the Southern U.S.

On August 25, when Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, the disaster devastated millions. The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey could only be described as “horrific,” according to the Huffington Post. The residents of Houston were facing life-threatening conditions because of the catastrophic flooding and powerful winds.

Once the hurricane subsided on Sept. 3, the lives of many were transformed. At least 70 Texas deaths are attributed to Harvey, according to Texas county and city officials.  Those that survived this ordeal were faced with tremendous loss as they began to rebuild their lives. The people of Texas were forever changed by the events of Hurricane Harvey.

Twitter to the rescue

In the wake of the recent hurricanes, social media has been used to spread awareness to relief for those affected by the devastated disasters. Social media has provided more ways for people to support those affected by hurricanes. For instance, celebrities have begun using social media to reach out to the public for help. TJ Watt, an outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, organized and developed a foundation for hurricanes victims in the state of Texas. The primary method Watt used to reach out to the public for donation was via Twitter.

According to 247Sports, Wyatt and several his teammates took to Twitter, offering ways to help relief efforts currently underway in Texas. In less than 24 hours, Watt and his teammates raised $500,000. As the days went on, Wyatt’s fundraiser efforts amassed over $10 million dollars for the Hurricane Harvey victims.

Social media has proven to be the best method of releasing important storm-related information. This is largely due to its efficient method of reaching. Although social media can quickly reach people online, it has also proven to save lives in the most dire of circumstances. This was the case for many residents of Texas during the events of Hurricane Harvey.

During Hurricane Harvey, typical methods of contacting crisis responders for assistance proved to be ineffective. In dire circumstances, many people had to unitize social media to get assistance.

One instance of this was when residents of Texas utilized Twitter to contact crisis responders during Hurricane Harvey. The Texas residents affected by Hurricane Harvey would tweet their location in efforts for crisis responder to come to their aid. “People posted their address,” according to San Diego Tribune. “while other posted the address a relative or a friend in need of help.”

Dr. Seungwon Yang, an assistant professor in Louisiana State University’s School of Library and Information Science, has examined the growing importance of social media to emergency responder, according to Fox Business. Although most people contact the police department via phone, Dr. Yang. “…in cases when [the] infrastructure is destroyed…the only way to contact the outside world within a flooded house.”

First responders and government official relied on social media

After the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, first responders and government officials wanted to be preemptive in their approach to help the resident of Florida survive Hurricane Irma. It was important for them to be able to provide people with much needed information about Hurricane Irma. Fortunately, an unorthodox system method of disseminating storm related information was discovered. Social was discovered to be the best way to disseminated as well as identified those in need of assistance.

Government officials and first responders, according to Fox Business, relied heavily “on social media to communicate and coordinate their efforts”. This approach not only gave the people of Florida storm related information quickly, but provided a space that was highly accessible to all those that may be affected by hurricane Irma.

Rachel Kaser of the TNW stated that the, “government officials and crisis responders have accepted social media as a reality when it comes to real-time communication and information delivery — and it may be saving lives.”

Doug Hildebrand, a meteorologist who works with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA used Twitter to spread information about Irma’s movements. Hildebrand further elaborated on the importance of multiple avenues to receive information about the storm. “It is essential that people have multiple ways to get information’, Hildebrand stated.

Social media and the need for information

As natural disasters occur more frequently, a method for distributing information and locating those affected are vital. Although social media was not initially considered a method to inform and help the public during emergencies, digital platforms such as Twitter, have shown that it can make the difference.