The Social Media Storm – by Stephanie Corritori

As I sit here in the dark for the third consecutive night, it occurs to me that social media has truly changed the world as we know it.  Living in New York for almost my entire life and experiencing every form of weather from heavy snow and ice, to heat waves and even flooding, I have never seen a storm quite like hurricane Sandy.  I have also never felt so connected and informed during and after such intense weather.

On Monday October 29th, hurricane Sandy came plowing through the east coast, wreaking havoc on people’s homes, communities and livelihoods.  Not only was FEMA recommending people use social media prior to the storm making landfall, but it soon became the only method of communication for people affected by the storm in areas without power.

As I attempted to sleep on that blustery night, I found myself picking-up my phone to see if I was still “connected”.  I quickly checked Facebook to make sure my friends and family were safe when I saw it: a post from local meteorologist, Joe Rao, of News 12 Westchester informing his Facebook fans of the exact location of the now infamous Sandy.  As the power outages continued to mount and the sound of emergency vehicles passed by our home, I continuously checked his updates and somehow felt secure.

The following morning, we began to realize the colossal damage Sandy had left in her path.  Although we were safe, it was unclear how our friends and family managed. Without power, watching the news was not an option.  Initially we went to make phone calls, but there was no signal and sending out emails and text messages were delayed by at least two hours.  The ironic thing was Facebook and Twitter were still accessible!  I could see my friends that live along the coast were posting notes that they were safe and I viewed photos of the severe damage to their homes and neighborhoods.

In the aftermath of Sandy, I have been viewing photos on Facebook and Twitter through the lenses of their camera phone and not the familiar lens of the news crews.  Friends from NYC and Hoboken were also warning people not to enter the city. As one FB post read:

“after 3 hours in the car trying to get back into Manhattan…back on long island for the weekend. FYI all of you people with no power, you can’t get into the city without 3+ ppl in your car”.

From this, we soon learned the back-story – that Mayor Bloomberg had instituted a three person per car minimum requirement. With each post, the severity of the situation continued to become clearer.

Social media has not only helped communities pass along important messages like where to get gas and dry ice, but it has also assisted with donations for those in need…

“My office is collecting cribs, wipes, fire extinguishers, size D batteries & water for a co-worker from Rockaway. If you have anything you can give please let me know.”

As we begin to rebuild and more information becomes available through the social media community, it is astonishing how these tools have helped keep everyone informed.  Check out this interesting article regarding twitter data during the storm, “Map: How New York Tweeted During Hurricane Sandy”.  Although some of the stories are sad and others are rewarding, the importance of this technology has clearly proved its worth in spades. While I admit to having somewhat of a favorable social media bias to begin with, I now RESPECT it as both a window and a lifeline to the rest of the world.

By: Stephanie Prato