For most in IS6621, social media is the focus of business and consumer analysis and the ability to leverage its use to create a unique story for our brands. Social media has great potential within all of our business aspirations. Brand creation and recognition can be driven from an Iphone. For others, social media is just a source of pug videos and food pictures (and there is nothing wrong with this). But, did you know about the potential for social media to save lives? Insert Hurricane Harvey and the creative minds of Houston, TX.
Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane beginning on August 17, 2017 and raging till September 2, 2017. Hurricane Harvey was primarily affecting the Gulf of Mexico area, centering a record amount of rainfall and flooding on the Houston area. After the three week stretch, Hurricane Harvey had produced around $125 billion in damages and sadly 107 confirmed deaths. This tied Hurricane Katrina for the most costliest natural disasters in US history. Yet, the deaths from Hurricane Harvey were just 10% of the total from Hurricane Katrina. Now, this was mostly from better aid responses and warning and evacuation procedures, but social media had a small impact in the lowered death total. Social media played a small, but vital role in the immediate emergency response to Hurricane Harvey. This was done in multiple avenues: Rescue, volunteering, and information. The main focus of this blog will be the rescue aspect.
Starting with the largest and greatest impact, social media was used for the direct rescue of multiple Houston residents. At first, government agencies recommended the use of dialing 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency. Hurricane Harvey proved to overwhelm the city of Houston with flood water, creating dangerous situations for many residents as their houses became flooded. With many residents of Houston requiring evacuation, 9-1-1 lines became overwhelmed by the influx of emergency calls. Many residents became stranded on their roofs with no contact with emergency agencies. This is when clever residents turned to twitter in a last ditch effort for rescue. Individuals began to tweet out their home addresses and the amount of individuals needing rescue (Seen by these examples:)
Emergency officials began turning their attention to social media as #SOSHarvey and #HelpHouston began to be a trending theme creating a movement of people needing help. A twitter account, @HarveyRescue, began taking submissions from individuals and relaying these messages to the local authorities. With exact locations and case details submitted, authorities were able to rescue individuals who had been stranded. Further, rescue efforts were reaching people whose normal mode of communication had failed.
This was quite revolutionary event in the use of social media. For the first time, social media was being used to relay individual emergency cases. In my opinion, this is a major step in the trust of social media by the public. Individuals were actually putting their personal addresses on their public social media accounts. This is top on the list of things not to do when utilizing social media. Yet, in times of need people believed in the power of social media being used for good. The impact of this event is a little more hazy.
The questions that rise from this event are interesting. First, is social media an actual viable way of communicating emergencies. I would argue “no” due to the diversity of social media posts. In contrast to a normal 9-1-1 call line, social media has an array of communication. On one hand a post could be about a cute video of pugs and on another an emergency event. Therefore, social media will not be phasing out the use of 9-1-1 anytime soon.
The second and more important question is will this emergency tweeting and social media use become more prevalent in the future. I believe the answer to this is “yes”. Hurricane Harvey showed the success of using social media when the normal routes of 9-1-1 fails. I believe with better infrastructure around the submission of emergency cases and closer monitoring, social media will play a large role in rescue efforts of future disasters. Emergency agencies should set up a direct messaging avenue for people in need when their phone calls fail due to the high demand. Not only would this allow for faster responses and lowered 9-1-1 volume, but this has the great potential to lower preventable deaths with greater communication.
All in all, Hurricane Harvey was another tragic disaster in our country’s history. Yet, the positive outcome was the good that can come from social media. Many times the good produced by social media is diminished and hidden by repeated misuse and selfish acts. Yet, in Houston during August 2017, social media showed that there is still a glimmer of good in its use.