Tropical Storm Isaac has officially been declared a Category 1 hurricane; packing maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. Forecasters are predicting seven inches to 14 inches of rain once Isaac reaches land. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from weather like this in the past, hopes of talking on regular phone lines will soon be nonexistent; hurricane Katrina disabled about three million power lines, 1,000 cell phone towers and more than 20,000 phone calls couldn’t be completed the day after Katrina hit.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has turned to social media to update about the hurricane and offer safety tips, including how to communicate during an emergency. First and foremost is limiting non-emergency phone calls to minimize network congestion, free up space on the network for emergency communications and conserve battery power if you are using a wireless phone.
Also listed as steps for communicating in an emergency like a hurricane include turning to text messaging or e-mail, waiting 10 seconds before redialing a call, using a car to charge dead devices, forwarding your home number to your wireless number in the event of an evacuation and tuning into broadcast and radio news for important news alerts.
Storing data and utilizing the cloud comes in handy in events such as hurricane Isaac. It means data protection and security in case a physical data center becomes unavailable. People can also hope to communicate more efficiently through the Internet if phone lines go down. Among the most common tips for communicating in a hurricane that knocks out power is obtaining an Internet-enabled device that doesn’t require running on electricity.
And if your power goes out, chances are if you can connect to the Internet you will have no problem staying informed. New Orleans has created a NOLA Ready website and Twitter (News - Alert) account, according to PR Daily, in order to get information out as it becomes available. These days, social media channels make it easier to spread word of what's happening now, compared with when Katrina hit in 2005.
Local communications professionals have said city and state social media efforts for the emergency have been handled very well.
"The updates are engaging, informative, and timely. The profiles also respond to questions and statements easily and quickly," Sara Estes Cohen, an emergency response and social media strategist in New Orleans, told PR Daily.
Many responses to citizens have come from the mayor's Twitter account to correct misinformation, while the NOLA Ready account has been answering questions about closings and transit changes. Additionally, the state's Twitter account for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has stayed on top of things.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman