Hurricane Harvey and the Social Media Storm

As the world knows by now, the city of Houston was engulfed by historic floods last week when Hurricane Harvey made landfall along the Texas Gulf Coast. The hurricane also brought out the power of social media. The last time a major hurricane (Katrina in 2005) battered an American city, Twitter didn’t exist and Facebook was mostly a way to keep up with friends. Since then, social networking has not only become a means of connecting with loved ones, but also of community conversation and engagement during times of emergency. Here are five key benefits that social media provided during Hurricane Harvey.

1. Saving lives through emergency alerts.

Social media networks can disseminate real-time information quickly, such as messages warning of severe weather hazards and rapidly developing situations.

2. Rapid communication direct to the public.

Social networking helps to facilitate the quick sharing of information between emergency agencies and the public, such as this dramatic evacuation notice.

3. Reaching a wider audience.

A well-established and broad-based social media network makes it more likely the public will share what they know and enlist their own personal networks to extend the reach of emergency communications. One of the defining images of Hurricane Harvey shows a group of elderly women sitting half-submerged in floodwater. La Vita Bella nursing home owner Trudy Lampson said they were initially told to shelter in place, but “in about 45 minutes to an hour [the water] went from ankle to stomach.” Trudy snapped a photo of residents in the rising water and sent it to her daughter Kim in Florida. Kim and her husband Tim McIntosh posted the photo to try to get help. The photo was retweeted almost 5,000 times. Several hours later, the residents had been rescued.

4. Building situational awareness.

Social media gives both responders and citizens a clearer view of the situation when information is shared in the form of geodata, text, pictures, video, or a combination of these. The photos posted by residents provide a better idea of how different parts of the city are impacted. Like when Logan Wheat went out on a small boat to check on cattle, and captured one of the most startling photos of all. In this viral image, I-10 south of Beaumont was covered by several feet of water with waves resembling an ocean!

5. Filling gaps in communication.

When other communications are down, people can use cell phones to send text messages with their location, status, needs for help, road blockages, and other critical information.

6. Fostering community resilience.

Social media can also be used to enhance the level of respect and trust a community has in its citizens, responders and stakeholders, and to build support for their efforts. Heartwarming stories like these can really pay off, such as this one of Pizza Hut employees paddling through flood waters to deliver free pizzas by kayak.

For those involved, social media can give people a feeling of empowerment over their circumstances. For others, social media is an easy way to see what is happening from a first-hand perspective. The relationships formed between emergency departments and the general public through social networking creates unity and builds resilience in the face of disaster, strengthening communities and society as a whole. [But take care to remember, not everyone has access to social media. 22% of adults – mainly older, poorer, less educated, and rural populations – do not have access to the internet. These people still depend on traditional communication channels.]

How YOU Can Help

Our hearts go out to the victims of Hurricane Harvey. There are a lot of homeschoolers in Texas, and many of these families have lost not only their home but also their “school.” See below for a list of places accepting donations to assist homeschool families affected by the flooding – another beneficial use of social media!

Hurricane Harvey Homeschool Supply Drive – Free2Homeschool of Southwest Alabama has partnered with Texas Home Educators to assist with relief efforts for homeschool families affected by the flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey Homeschool Life Curriculum Relief – Support and encourage homeschooling families affected by Harvey by donating curriculum. – A “nationally recognized, 501(c)(3) organization helping over 15,000+ homeschool families provide curriculum and materials to other homeschool families in need across the U.S.” For Hurricane Harvey, they are collecting curriculum in “new” or “like new” condition, new unopened school supplies, and cash donations to help with shipping costs.

Texas Homeschool Disaster Relief Network – This Facebook group has been set up to network families who need help with fellow homeschooling families who are able to provide that help (i.e. curricula donations, volunteer opportunities, host family housing).

Texas Home Educators Homeschoolers Helping Homeschoolers – This Facebook group was set up so that homeschoolers can connect with each other to donate curriculum directly to flooded homeschoolers.

HSF’s Emergency Response Fund – The Home School Foundation, the charitable arm of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), is collecting donations to help families replace destroyed curriculum and continue to homeschool, giving their children a sense of stability in a time of loss and uncertainty.

If you live near Houston, open your homes and churches to victims. If circumstances allow, take your family to the area and volunteer for the cleanup and rebuilding efforts. Give to a respected charity such as the All Hands Volunteers, Houston Food Bank, or Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

Be sure to share on social media and show support from the homeschooling community!

Do you know of another local organization or charity that is helping out Hurricane Harvey families? Leave a comment!

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