Lessons From a Social Media Lead: Using Tech to Prep

Microsoft has a long history of working with leading humanitarian response organizations dedicated to disaster preparedness and recovery.  This week we are proud to team up with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help raise awareness of resources, tools, and tips that can help you stay safe during a natural disaster.  In this blog post, hear from Jason Lindesmith of FEMA about “using tech to prep” and his great insights on getting prepared in advance of a disaster.

By: Jason Lindesmith, Social Media Lead, Public Affairs, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Technology is a lifeline for millions of people. Technology, especially the internet, lets people stay in touch with family and friends who can be a block or half a world away.  It allows people to learn instantly, by typing the topic in question into their favorite search site.  After emergencies or large disasters, scenes like this are commonplace (this is from a church in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy last year):


I've ridden out a few sticky situations in the D.C. area that taught me how to use technology as a resource during disasters, and maybe more importantly, how to keep my devices juiced up and usable.  So if you use the internet regularly, have a smartphone, or are curious about what to expect if a hurricane or severe storm should impact you, I hope these are helpful:

· Hurricane Irene: access to information is key - Aside from being in Florida for Hurricane Wilma in 2005, Hurricane Irene was the first storm I had seen up close. I found myself glued to news websites and broadcasts offering details about the latest conditions since I had friends and family in the impacted areas.  I found out firsthand that along with food, shelter, and water, access to information is a basic need that technology can help fulfill during and after emergencies.
Seeing the impact of Irene made me ask: "If an emergency was unfolding in my town or city, how would you get continual updates?"  Here’s what I ended up relying on more than anything during and after Irene:

  • Social media - I know, not surprising coming from someone who works in social media.  But if you're a regular social media user, it's worth seeing how you could use those sites to get updates from your town, city, school district, local elected officials, local media, department of transportation, or other potential sources of good emergency info. After Irene, I was constantly checking the many social media sites of New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. to make sure I had the latest updates in those cities.
  • Neighbors - Yes, I'm talking about good, old fashioned face-to-face conversations here.  Just after Irene came up the East Coast and brushed by D.C., it was all people were talking about. "How'd you do with the storm?" "Did anyone's house on the street have damage? Have you heard anything about the grocery store up the street?"  So take the opportunity now - before a storm hits - to get to know your neighbors and who may be in a position to have local information after a disaster.

· Derecho: how to stay powered up - This example isn't from a hurricane, but the lesson definitely applies to how hurricanes and tropical storms impact communities.  How dependent are you on electricity?  If your power went out for five days, what would you do?  I found out how dependent on electricity I was when I lost power for three days after a prolonged severe storm (called a derecho for you weather-types) came through the DC area last summer.


This is when I learned how cool a weather radio can be. A few things about it – it has small solar panels on top, a hand crank, and multiple ports for plugging in devices to get a quick charge.  It's like having a pocket knife with 30 different accessories, except that a weather radio is specifically designed for emergency situations.  I can crank the radio for 1-2 minutes and charge my phone for 20-30 minutes, it's that simple.  Since my power was out for three days, I ended up keeping the radio near a sunny window so the solar panels could do their work to charge up my phone.

A weather radio is one great option to give your phone some extra juice - I'd also recommend having at least one spare battery for your cell phone, or getting one of the built-in battery/case combos that are out there now.  That will definitely come in handy if your power goes out for a few days, like mine did.

· Hurricane Sandy: useful emergency apps – Finally, Hurricane Sandy taught me how there are lots of great apps out there to make your phone its own source of emergency information. 
The great thing about downloading these apps is that you can still access the safety information even if the cell networks are unavailable.  That means as long as your cell phone has power (thanks to your snazzy weather radio), you’ll be able to see how the experts tell you how to stay safe in any almost any situation.
Here are a few of the apps I regularly consulted during the storm (and encouraged my friends to download as well):

  • The Red Cross Hurricane app – an easy-to-use interface, lots of safety tips, a map of open shelters, and a quiz to test your hurricane know-how.
  • The FEMA app – the interface is easy to navigate and has a large section with resources for those impacted by disasters. There are also maps of open FEMA disaster recovery centers and open shelters, as well as tips for how to donate and volunteer responsibly.
  • Microsoft HelpBridge – it integrates with your Facebook contacts so you can easily set your “emergency contacts”.  You can then quickly send a message to this group after a disaster saying you are OK or that you need help – with the option to post the message on your social media channels as well.

I hope some of the lessons I’ve learned in dealing with severe weather in the D.C. area will inspire you to get prepared for the upcoming hurricane season.  Simple things like finding the right apps to download and making sure you have a backup power supply for your phone can go a long way.  For more tips on getting prepared – like what to do with your home, yard, storing important documents, and your family’s emergency plan, check out Ready.gov/hurricanes.

fema3 Jason Lindesmith manages the day-to-day digital engagement at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  He oversees several areas of the agency’s online communication efforts, including the agency’s blog, social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.), and coordinates social media efforts during and after disasters.
Comments (1)

  1. Elias Tommy says:

    Derecho means rectum in Spanish.  What connection does that have?

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