Social media in a crisis

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed this weekend’s tweets were full of #stl and #tornado.

An EF-4 tornado hit Lambert International Airport, the airport I fly out of most often. I was lucky and left Friday morning, but I left my car behind in one of the long-term parking lots.

As I watched the news and searched the local news outlet websites and Twitter late Friday night and early Saturday morning, I was pretty easily able to see that this tornado devastated the area and quite a bit of the airport. At the time, Lambert International Airport was closed, “indefinitely.”

Twitter was crucial for me to get the information I wanted. To learn about the Southwest terminal and Super Park Lot C (Cypress Road). But I also verified the information I received from local and official social accounts with the phone calls to the airline and parking lot. Thanks to everyone who shared information, I was able to determine that one, I would be able to get back to St. Louis on Sunday and two, that my car was likely not damaged.

In the aftermath, I’ve noticed some people claiming this will be an excellent case study of the best use of social media in a natural disaster situation. I’d caution that. Not because it didn’t work, it did. Beautifully.  But because a tornado is very different from a hurricane, earthquake or tsunami. In a tornado situation, the damage is not very wide-spread. Most infrastructure is still in place and cell phone and internet services aren’t as interrupted as they are in other crises.

Instead, I would look at social media adding another layer of humanity to a natural disaster. People can see in real-time how those involved are affected. What they are seeing and hearing. First hand accounts that have not gone through a reporter and news outlet. Essentially, with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social sites, the general public now has access to raw footage and uncut interviews.

The filter of the news media now has the chance to give perspective, tell more than just how the event affected people and tell the bigger story. There is still room for the basic facts (for example: when will the airport open, how many people were injured, etc.) and they should not be ignored, but relying on first hand accounts won’t pull viewers away from social media.

If you want to help those affected by the tornadoes in St. Louis, my friend, Justin Goldsborough created a CauseVox for the Red Cross. You can read about why he created it here and can donate here.