#BePrepared: Social Media Could Save Your Life During a Disaster

Julie H. Case

Real-time updates and emergency alerts to safety check-ins, here’s how to use Twitter and other platforms to prepare for, monitor, and stay safe during any severe storm.

As technology advances, we have more tools at our disposal to prepare for and respond to natural, man-made, and climate-related disasters. Social media has become a powerful tool in times of such crisis, providing users with real-time updates, emergency alerts, and a way to communicate with loved ones during and after a storm. Here are some of the top ways to use social media to weather any storm or disaster.

Using Social Media to Prepare for Disasters

The first step in staying safe during a storm or disaster is to be prepared. While not every disaster comes with enough warning for those in its path to evacuate before it, being aware that a storm or disaster is coming is essential. 

One of the best ways to stay apprised of disasters in your area is by following relevant accounts on social media. Many government agencies, such as the National Weather Service, post updates on their social media accounts during severe weather events. These accounts provide valuable information about the weather forecast, evacuation orders, and even emergency shelter locations. 

It’s also a good idea to follow local news outlets on social media. These outlets often provide live updates during a disaster and can alert you to any road closures or hazards in your area. Additionally, joining community groups on Facebook or Nextdoor can be helpful for getting information about local resources and organizing volunteer efforts.

How to Use Social Media to Monitor Severe Storms

During a storm or natural disaster, social media can be a crucial tool for staying informed. Twitter is particularly useful for real-time updates, as many government agencies and news outlets tweet about emergency situations as they unfold. You can also search for relevant hashtags, such as #HurricaneFlorence or #CaliforniaWildfires, to find posts from people who are experiencing the disaster firsthand.

Another helpful feature of social media is the ability to report emergencies. Twitter, for example, allows users to report emergencies by sending a tweet with the hashtag #911 or by messaging local emergency services. This can be particularly useful if you’re unable to make a phone call.

If you’re in an affected area, it’s equally important to post updates to your own social media accounts—whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram—so that your friends and family know you’re safe. Posting your own accounts of a disaster can also be helpful for emergency responders who may be trying to locate people in need of emergency aid. First-person reports on social media can also help disaster responders after a storm identify where the greatest damage has happened and who is most in need of assistance.

Using Facebook and Nextdoor During a Disaster

While Twitter is often the go-to platform for real-time updates during natural disasters, Facebook and Nextdoor can also be useful tools for staying informed and prepared before a disaster. 

On Facebook, you can follow local government and emergency management agencies, which will share updates and information during disasters. Search for these pages and follow them to stay informed about what’s happening in your area. 

Facebook’s Safety Check allows you to mark yourself as safe during an emergency and check on others affected, but you can use Facebook Live to share updates and information with followers, which can be a great way to let people know what’s happening on the ground in real time.

And, joining community groups on both Facebook and Nextdoor can also be helpful for getting information about local resources and organizing volunteer efforts after one. 

Top Ways to Use Social Media According to Disaster Relief Volunteers

In their 13 years of responding to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and more, Team Rubicon’s volunteers—known as Greyshirts—have learned a thing or two about how to use sources like Twitter to prepare for, monitor, and survive disasters. 

Team Rubicon Social Media Coordinator Jaclyn Ermoyan, a Greyshirt who has deployed in response to flooding, hurricanes, and a tornado, calls keeping current the most important thing about using social media during a disaster. 

“I’d say the most important thing about using social media during a disaster is ensuring the info you’re using is timely and accurate,” says Ermoyan. “You want to follow known reporters and news sources, not just people posting storm photos who may not be informed.”

Ermoyan’s other top tips:

Follow the National Weather Service (@NWS) on Twitter for updates.

The National Weather Service is the primary source of weather information in the United States. They provide updates on severe weather events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires.

Follow local weather accounts

Find and follow local National Weather Service accounts or local weather news accounts. For example, in Mississippi you might follow @NWS and National Weather Service Jackson MS—@NWSJacksonMS. 

Determine if your local emergency management center has an active Twitter account, then follow it. 

When yet another round of severe storms was on the way for North, Central, and East Texas in April, for example, the Texas Division of Emergency Management—@TDEM—notified followers that baseball-sized hail, possible tornadoes, damaging winds, and heavy rainfall could be imminent.

Know the storm name

In the case of storms that come with advance warning, like hurricanes and tropical cyclones, the name of the storm will likely be the hashtag—for example #HurricaneIan. Following that hashtag can help you monitor the storm’s progress, size, location, and even potential impact.

Go local with #hashtags

Use location-based hashtags to find posts from people in your area. During Hurricane Harvey, people used the hashtag #HoustonStrong to share updates and connect with others in the Houston area. 

One more general reminder from Greyshirt Ermoyan is to always have electronics charged before a storm and, ideally, to have an emergency radio as a backup. 

Regardless of how you feel about influencers and celebrity posts, social media can be a powerful tool for preparing for, monitoring, and staying safe during a storm or natural disaster. By following relevant accounts, posting updates, and using emergency features, you can stay informed and connected during these challenging times. Remember to stay cautious and use common sense when using social media during a disaster, and always prioritize your safety and the safety of those around you.

Top Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram Accounts and Hashtags to Follow During a Disaster

When it comes to using social media to prepare for, monitor, and stay safe during a storm or natural disaster, Twitter is a particularly useful platform. Here are some accounts and hashtags to follow:

The National Weather Service: @NWS

The National Weather Service is the primary source of weather information in the United States. They provide updates on severe weather events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires. You can follow the National Weather Service on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter

Federal Emergency Management Agency: @FEMA

FEMA is responsible for coordinating the federal government’s response to disasters. They provide information on emergency preparedness, response, and recovery. You can follow FEMA on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.

The American Red Cross: @RedCross

The American Red Cross provides emergency assistance, disaster relief, and education. They provide updates on disasters and offer advice on how to stay safe. You can follow the Red Cross on Facebook and Twitter.

Team Rubicon: @TeamRubicon

Before and during a disaster, Team Rubicon often posts or reposts warnings for local residents across the U.S. After a disaster, the nonprofit posts about recovery efforts and information about how affected people can request assistance. For any of this advice, follow Team Rubicon on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Local news outlets

It’s important to follow local news outlets, such as TV stations, newspapers, and radio stations, for updates on local conditions and emergency orders.

In addition to following specific accounts, it’s important to use relevant hashtags to find posts about a particular disaster. Here are some popular hashtags to use during a disaster:

#NameOfDisaster: And, of course, find the name of the storm and follow that.

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