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US Govt Uses Social Media for Hurricane Support
Source: FutureGov Asia, by Sumedha Jalote, http://www.futuregov.asia/articles/2012/nov/01/us-govt-uses-social-media-hurricane-support/
Source Date: Thursday, November 01, 2012
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: United States
Created: Nov 09, 2012

Government agencies and officials in the United States are using social media platforms to share updates and gather local information about the powerful Hurricane Sandy that has torn through Eastern USA over the past few days.

Since the storm has caused power outages in many areas and limited physical mobility, social networks, especially Twitter, are proving to be good sources of localised information for the government. Residents in affected areas are logging on to Twitter to share information and photos of problems such as power outages, fallen trees and road blockages directly with government agencies or officials. For example, Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey is gathering information about problems such as fallen trees and power lines gathered from residents’ tweets and informing the relevant agencies.

Additionally, the government is using social networks to find and help residents who facing critical problems. Residents can message government officials for help on Twitter. Booker has replied to hundreds of tweets asking for assistance, and is using the information from these tweets to ensure food, other supplies and shelter is provided to those in need. “I can help. DM [direct message] me where you live/phone #”, he said, in response to a tweet from a single mother without power or food.

The government is also providing information and updates about local shelters, helplines residents can call, areas to avoid and status of public transport through social media. Booker’s Twitter feed, which has more than 1.2 million followers, and Facebook page, which has more than 100,000 ‘likes’, have regular updates about helplines, places where residents can get hot meals and power outages in the area.

Ready, a “national public service advertising campaign designed to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies”, is using Twitter to share tips for storm survival and information for volunteers trying to help. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York is sharing information about public transportation via their website and Twitter.

In addition to directly connecting with residents and spreading information, government agencies are sharing data with other organisations which are using the internet to help residents. Data from New York’s Office of Emergency Management powers Google Crisis Maps, which maps out information about power outages, evacuation shelters, traffic conditions and local emergency Twitter feeds.

The extensive popularity and availability of social networks has made it possible for the government to make full use of them for gathering information and spreading alerts. Hurricane Sandy has received much more attention on social media than previous such storms. In 2005, for example, when Hurricane Katrina hit, social network platforms were vastly less developed and couldn’t be used effectively on a large scale.

Residents without internet access or smartphones can follow emergency Twitter feeds and upload their own tweets by sending text messages to 40404 on their phones.

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