A portion of my work is done at home.  At the specific time of the Earthquake this past week, I felt a minor shake, thinking it was my upstairs neighbors moving stuff around.   I thought nothing of it until I went on Twitter and Facebook and noticed that EVERYONE on my list was commenting about it.  Most expressed where they were during the shake while some shared they did not feel a thing (Frankly I think some of those folks were a little bitter about it since the comments generally came with some sarcastic response to those who did feel it).

To give you an idea of how twitter played a part in keeping us informed:

Green dots are tweets about earthquakes. Gray dots are tweets about other topics. Each frame is one second (total of 12 minutes). Thanks to Natural Earth for the land, water, and boundary shape data and the Twitter Streaming API for the tweets.

The same with Hurricane Irene. Though many people lost power during the ferocious hurricane, many people were giving each other updates online about how they were dealing with the hurricane.  Even some elected officials took to Facebook and Twitter to tell their constituency of hour by hour happenings.  None is as effective as the Tim Brokaw of emergency news updates Newark Mayor Cory Booker.   He has a team of people who help manage various aspect of his social media strategy and it is revolutionizing the way government informs the people.   FEMA had people text 43362 to get information out to folks about shelters in case of evacuations. Even local officials used Facebook to let people know about the different resources they had to weather the storm.

The point is,  Social Media told us what was happening before the U.S. government and the media.  In some ways, this ability to connect with people immediately offered us comfort that we were not crazy that we felt the ground shake and allowed us to share our fears and concerns about how the hurricane affected us.

Social Media shows its effectiveness. However, for the sake of balanced argument, one point that must be made is that if we lose all access to our communication and electricity, I hope we don’t forget the traditional ways of communicating with others during times of emergencies: knocking on your neighbor’s door.

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