Social Networking in the Age of Natural Disasters

I'm sitting here today on Thanksgiving Day reflecting on just how thankful I am for family and friends who helped us out during hurricane Sandy! Thankfully our house was spared, but for many like myself we were without power for many days and only resumed our regular schedule last week. To say the least it was very disorienting not having a regular schedule and moving around New Jersey from family and friends to find homes that had power.

The college where I teach got hit hard and was without power for two weeks. During this time, we were alerted about the college closing via an automated system that emails and phones us to give us periodic updates. Because of the nature of the damage there were some faculty and students who reported having trouble getting emails and for a lot of us our only consistent way to get information was using our cell phones which worked pretty well- as long as you were able to keep it charged. There were many times during the two week period without power that I sat in the car and charged my iPhone. Keeping informed with my colleagues, students and friends was important to me and Facebook proved to be a great way to keep in touch and update everyone. I can see going forward that social networking sites like Facebook will become a bigger part of the overall communications system when there are natural disasters. With my iPhone 4S, I was able to check in and get updated information from friends and family. Text messaging proved to be another great way to get in touch with friends and because of the low bandwidth requirements the messages got through when at times it was hard to make a cell phone call.

One other tool that I relied on during Sandy, to communicate with my students was Remind101. Remind101 is a  text messaging service that allowed me to push messages to my students. Remind101 pushes messages in one direction and does not allow recipients to reply. At the beginning of the semester I had my students in each of my classes sign up for the service, which only took a minute or so. Once the students signed up I could now send them up to 140 character messages via my Remind101 iPhone app. Remind101 was great during the hurricane Sandy and allowed me to update my students and keep them abreast as to what was happening. I highly recommend using Remind101 to push messages to students, parents or any one else that is part of your network. I can't say enough for Remind101 and how it allowed me to stay in touch with my students during a natural disaster. So when you are putting together your disaster communication plan consider including Facebook and Remind101.

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