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Tornado Outbreak— Managing During and After the Storms

Storm Warning Sign

Emergency communications were used to great effect during the tornados in the South.

The recent tornado outbreak in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia was the deadliest in decades.

Damage in Georgia alone is estimated at $75 million. And many in Alabama are calling it the state’s most damaging natural disaster. The devastation dramatically demonstrates the need to always be prepared for disasters as well as the increasing role that social media is playing in communications before, during and after emergency events. In the South, rebuilding efforts were quickly launched, with $5 million in relief aid from federal agencies which are funding temporary clean-up jobs, allowing the rebuilding to be done quickly and concurrently offering a welcome short-term income boost to area residents.

Dramatic videos of the tornadoes captured the raw power of the storm which decimated entire towns. Coverage of the tornadoes was unique in the sheer number of individual tornadoes that were captured live on video. Some local stations used volunteers to spot approaching storms, even providing the amateur filmmakers with dashboard-mounted, internet-enabled cameras.

Notifications and Social Media:

  • During the storm, an attorney in Ringgold, Georgia used Facebook to post live updates about the storm as it moved through his town. His site became a busy source of information, as he provided updates about who was safe, injured, or trapped by the storm.  He also posted real-time information about the well being of individuals in a particular town, directly responding to Facebook inquiries as he toured the devastation.
  • Many first reports of tornado touch-downs in the South came from Twitter users (or Tweeps).
  • Tweeps have played an integral role in communicating about international emergencies, by tweeting about disasters such as the earthquakes in Japan.

Using Social Media after the Storms:

  • The simply titled “Pictures and Documents found after the April 21, 2011 Tornadoes” Facebook Page was the brainchild of a Mississippi resident who found scattered personal items left in the wake of the tornadoes. Her FB page allows individuals to post pictures of found items such as family photographs or even birth certificates, along with directions about item retrieval.
  • Several Atlanta residents created Facebook Fan pages asking for tuxedo and prom dress donations to help teenage storm-victims attend their senior prom. This page, titled “Prom Dresses for Tornado Victims” boasts more than 5,000 “Likes.”

While social media has proven useful to help spread information and alert others to danger, it is not yet widely used yet by first responders. But that is likely to change:

  • 911 call centers increasingly receive text messages even though their systems are not yet equipped to handle texts.
  • According to a Red Cross study, three out of four respondents would expect emergency personnel to arrive within an hour of posting a Facebook status update asking for help. Authorities do not currently monitor such posts. However, FEMA and other organizations are increasingly looking at ways to incorporate Twitter and Facebook in their planning efforts.

The disaster relief response to the tornadoes is a coordinated effort led by both federal and state agencies. Recently, FEMA has emphasized the need for state and local emergency responders to lead recovery efforts. The director of FEMA spoke about the importance of state-led response to disasters such as tornados. He also remarked that, post-Katrina, many people look to FEMA to be supremely powerful and able to solve any disaster—while the reality is that any large scale response requires a concerted effort between multiple groups.

Proper planning and learning the “Do’s” are the keys to managing the situation when disasters strike.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

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