It has been more than a week since Hurricane Irma ravaged the state of Florida. As a long-time Miami-Dade resident, this is my third hurricane (but my first “big one”). My partner was here for Andrew as well as the 2005 season (when Katrina, Rita, & Wilma swept through the state). If you have never been through a weather related natural disaster, there is a lot of anxiety in the air before as well as after. What made Irma different for me was not the storm itself, but the myriad of tools available to residents to help prepare and recover from the storm. Social media played a significant role for my community as we prepared for the storm and as we began to pick up the pieces afterwards. However, in order to use these tools effectively, it was necessary to understand how to navigate them! Here are a few things that I learned over the course of the past week.
Follow your State/County/City Government
Miami-Dade county employed all of the social media networks to get their messages out there: Facebook, Twitter, and Periscope were how I got my information about evacuation orders, emergency supplies, and more. I am a cord cutter (meaning that I have no cable). This was the first time I was concerned about local channel access (antennas are an option as well). However, it was not a problem as Facebook Live notified me when Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Governor Rick Scott, or our local Emergency Offices were sharing updated information on evacuation zones, shelters, and storm preparations. I did not miss an update. What I found especially helpful on these announcements for the community at large is that, unlike the postings on major news networks, they shared information in all three of the prominent languages in Miami-Dade County: English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.
Be Careful with “Viral” Information & Tips
Both before and after a storm, misinformation is rampant. People are trying to be helpful
and, as such, may share out information that is simply not accurate. For example, prior to the storm I saw so many people share out this information about storing valuables in your dishwasher (and other appliances). In fact, even a few news agencies ran with the story. So, if there is a storm, should you do this? Absolutely not! The NHC, Red Cross, and other information sharing organizations made a point to try to correct this information. Just an FYI, the best place to store your important documents and valuables is in water tight, plastic containers. After the storm, misinformation spread about reimbursements or food stamps for those who lost food as a result of a power outage. Sadly, whatever food is lost can only be recouped via an insurance claim. However, as power outages lingered on, the community provided hot lunches at local parks and schools.
Follow Your Local News
Local news is far more important than national news during a crisis. They can give you up to date information about what is happening not just in your city, but in your neighborhood. Additionally, if you don’t have power, they may be simulcasting in your community. During the storm, our local NPR affiliate was great at getting out information, especially after the storm. They even started a Facebook group for Keys residents to help check in on one another.
Twitter is Incredibly Powerful, If you Know How to Use it
Both before and after the storm, Twitter was my best friend in getting pertinent, up to date information. Before the storm hit, I was trying to figure out where to put my car. Like most older homes in South Florida, I don’t have a parking garage. My neighborhood also has a lot of trees. I was trying to find a local garage in which I could store my car (shielding it from wind, debris, and possible storm surge). So, I tweeted out looking for help. As the Miami Herald was working overtime, I asked them for help. I was surprised and pleased when they responded immediately with some up-to-date information. I was ultimately able to park my car in the garage at Marlins Park (after some local pressure, they finally opened them up).
After the storm, by navigating some local hashtags such as #Miami, #MiamiAfterIrma, and #Irma, I was able to find restaurants that were open (after day 3 of pop-tarts and Peanutbutter sandwiches, we wanted a hot meal), progress of Florida Light & Power, distributions of ice, and other areas where we could seek comfort and refuge after the storm. Twitter crowd-sourcing is one of the best ways to find out information relevant to you and your area during a crisis.
All in all, my city was spared the worst that Irma could bring. However, South Florida has a bullseye painted on it and I know that we will face another storm in the future. I’m hoping that these tips will help you and your community weather the next crisis.