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Superstorm Sandy: How Social Media Helped Residents Manage the Perfect Storm

I was at a hurricane party when the high winds of Superstorm Sandy finally shut down our power outside Washington, DC.

A bunch of neighbors figured this was a suitable way to welcome the inevitable power outage. By 8 p.m., an outside transformer lit up like a greenish July 4th fireworks display and the block went dark.

The only way I could get word out about my status was, well, my Facebook status. So family and friends looked there to make sure I was OK.

By this time, Instagramers had begun posting to Facebook and CNN. I got a full picture of the suffering that was happening all around, particularly in the northeast.

And just as quickly, government officials took to social media to keep residents informed.

By around 8 p.m. on Oct. 28th, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced over his @MikeBloomberg Twitter feed that the city’s primary concerns were “storm surge, prolonged wind, and possible power outages.”

Forbes reported in “Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Superstorm Sandy, and Social Media: A New York City Perspective,” that “Twenty-five minutes later the @MikeBloomberg account tweeted, “Our 65 shelters will be open as of 9 AM Sunday. They provide a safe place to sleep, they provide meals, and they have space for pets. #Sandy.”

Ultimately, Superstorm Sandy was this year’s No. 2 topic on Facebook, according to data provided to CNN by the social network. (Incidentally, the No. 1 topic was the Super Bowl.)

CBS News reported on Oct. 30 that people all over the world got a sense of real time events on the East Coast, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

Social analytics firm Topsy reported nearly 3.5 million tweets with the hashtag #sandy within a 24-hour window. 

And, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told the Associated Press that #sandy photos were being uploaded at a rate of 10 pictures per second. 

A Case Study: @GovChristie

Then there was the dire situation in New Jersey. 

Governor Chris Christie took to Twitter (@GovChristie) before, during, and after the storm to reach out to people.

What followed was several weeks’ worth of tweets about getting power up and running within specific neighborhoods, updating folks on transit coming back on board – a literal blow-by-blow of schedules resuming, thanking companies for donations to help rebuild the Garden State, reaching out about the NJReliefFund and the celebrities helping to raise money, and lots of “hang in there”-type tweets.

Here are some of the @GovChristie highlights:

  • Oct. 26: While Sandy’s track is still uncertain, NJ has potential to experience a major impact from high winds, heavy rain, flooding & power outages.
  • Oct. 27: Please stay safe. Tell someone where u are going, think of your neighbors and stay off the roads once the weather gets bad. #Sandy
  • Oct. 27: When it comes to generator safety and and rigging electrical alternatives, if it looks stupid, it is stupid. http://bit.ly/VvrUyI 
  • Oct. 28: Holding a telephone briefing with over 385 local elected officials to give them the most recent information and advice on Hurricane Sandy.
  • Oct. 29: Hurricane #Sandy is now moving twice as fast as I had originally been briefed-we are now expecting landfall in AC in the next hour
  • Oct. 29: we have announced road closures- when road says its closed that means its closed #DontBeStupid
  • Oct. 29: Everyone stay calm and please be safe. My prayers are with all in New Jersey tonight.
  • Oct. 30: Amusement Park in Seaside Heights is nearly washed out. The log flume is basically in the ocean. #Sandy
  • Oct. 30: We will rebuild the Shore. It may not be the same, but we will rebuild. #Sandy
  • Oct. 30: We now have 2.6 million households without power. #Sandy
  • Oct. 31: It’s just not safe yet to be out trick-or- treating tonight, so Halloween has officially been postponed until Monday.
  • Oct. 31: President Obama made it clear to me today that it is his top priority to help New Jersey get back to normal. As it is mine.
  • Nov. 1: Last night, I signed an Executive Order declaring a state of water emergency. Read it here http://www.nj.gov/governor/news/news/552012/approved/20121101i.html
  • Nov. 2: The state has warming and charging stations across the state. Visit http://www.nj211.org  for a complete list. #Sandy
  • Nov. 2: Talking with Pres. Obama about needs in #NJ at the ROIC Friday evening. #Sandy pic.twitter.com/Kw66mMNT
  • Nov. 3: We have over 8000 utility workers from across the country here right now working to restore power. #Sandy
  • Nov. 4: You all know, I will use "my type" of gentle persuasion to keep the power companies going. We will get this done.
  • Nov. 6: We do not have a fuel shortage in New Jersey. Do not panic. It is not necessary.
  • Nov. 6: I know yesterday was a struggle for NJ commuters. We are getting 500 more buses from the federal government to assist in that commute.
  • Nov. 6: .@FEMA has extended individual disaster assistance to all 21 counties in New Jersey http://nj.gov/governor/news/news/552012/approved/20121106b.html
  • Nov. 7: I'm asking all school districts to be creative. We need to get kids back to school in order to have a return to some type of normalcy.
  • Nov. 9: I didn't take this job to fail, I took this job to succeed. And we will succeed. #NJResilience #Sandy
  • Nov. 13: This afternoon I met w/ Legislative leaders & I got a commitment from them to put #Sandy recovery & rebuilding first, not politics.


Christine Cube is a media relations manager with PR Newswire and freelance writer. You can follow her @cpcube.

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