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Graphics-Rich Social Media Provides Unprecedented Situational Awareness During Hurricane Sandy

Tue, 10/30/2012 - 12:08pm
Luke Simpson, Editor

Luke Simpson, EditorI spent most of Monday glued to my Twitter feed as Hurricane Sandy pounded the Northeast and Mid Atlantic: Atlantic City, NJ was underwater; all three of New York City’s airports were closed; Wall Street was closed; states of emergency were declared across the Northeast; widespread power outages; nuclear reactors on alert due to high water levels.

More prominent than ever was an emphasis on graphics and photos as a way to provide detailed, verifiable information and situational awareness. For example, I wasn’t simply told that flood waters were approaching the runways at LaGuardia airport -- the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey showed me.

Port Authority photo of LaGuardia airport during Sandy

A number of dramatic storm images making the rounds early Monday were soon shown to be fake -- a prime example of social media’s tendency to self-correct false information.

Maps, Maps, Maps

The National Hurricane Center’s cone map was the go-to resource for information relating to Sandy’s path and intensity. The morning and afternoon updates to the map were highly-anticipated and much-talked about events.

NHC Tuesday Sandy

Google’s crisis map went viral and while it was packed with information such as emergency shelters, I felt it would be more useful if it connected available resources with those who needed them.

Google Sandy crisis map

Ushahidi’s Crowdmaps on the other hand are set up to provide an interface between volunteers, first responders and those in need, but it appears the service was only utilized by a handful of organizations.

Ushahidi map of Albany after Sandy

It’s now standard for utilities to provide interactive, real-time outage maps. These interfaces free up phone lines and personnel to work on more important issues than answering, “When will the power be back on?” Links to outage maps for New York City’s ConEd and Washington D.C.’s PEPCO featured prominently in my Twitter stream throughout Monday.

ConEd outage map after Sandy

PEPCO outage map after Sandy

Instacane

Social photo sharing application Instagram was an integral part of social media’s image-rich coverage of Hurricane Sandy. With its hugely popular image filters and tight integration with Twitter and Facebook, the latter of which purchased the company for $1 Billion earlier this year, the service has amassed over 100 million users.

During the height of the storm, Instagram was publishing 10 photos tagged with “#Sandy” every second.

Pinterest, a photo- and video-sharing service similar to Instagram but with an emphasis on “boards” containing photos of a common theme, was used by the NHC to collect and share its images of Sandy’s projected path and other useful images.

NHC's Pinterest board

As we continue to look at ways to use social media in business continuity programs we are forced to embrace the use of graphics as a way to portray and share information.

Continuity Insights will continue to update readers on events surrounding Sandy and the recovery efforts carried out throughout the week. As is the norm in this community, I’ve received a number of offers from BC practitioners to help anyone that is in need. Please email me at luke.simpson@advantagemedia.com if you could use an extra pair of hands or need to bounce ideas off one of your peers.

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