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Emergency communications in the era of social media

Hurricane Harvey was the first major Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in the United States in 12 years. Since Wilma in 2005, no hurricanes have made landfall with such destructive power.

Harvey was the wettest tropical hurricane on record in the United States to date. In the four-day period it struck, it dropped more than 40 inches of rain in many places in the eastern Texas region.

Soon after Harvey, Irma, a second major Atlantic hurricane, caused widespread and catastrophic damage throughout parts of the northeastern Caribbean and the Florida Keys. The Cape Verde type hurricane was typed as the most intense since Dean in 2005.

Emergency communications go social

In order to be prepared for an emergency -- whether it is a fire, natural disaster or any other event -- many organizations have an emergency communications plan that often times does not yet include social channels.

Yet, according to CNN, hundreds of stranded Texans sought help by posting on Facebook and Twitter. They organized rescue missions through Facebook groups. And they posted harrowing pictures to emphasize just how high the flood waters were.

The Wall Street Journal reports on incidents of users taking the unusual step of sharing their full names and addresses across public channels like Facebook and Twitter. Even going as far as tagging news outlets, journalists and other prominent individuals in their social-media posts in hopes their messages would be shared widely and eventually answered.

Need Rescue 17611 Magnolia Circle, Richmond TX 77407 - 2 Adults 2 Children @CajunNavy2016 @USCG

— Rockabye Baby Rental (@RockabyeAnnie) August 28, 2017

Countering misinformation

However well-intentioned the social posts of people in distress and citizen journalists might be, sometimes they can be factually incorrect. Miami International Airport had to deal with a video of Mexico City's airport that on social was claimed to be at Miami International.

Mashable reported the misappropriated video was even retweeted by President Donald Trump's director of social media, Dan Scavino Jr.

The newsroom as emergency hub

At PressPage (provider of social newsrooms) we also noted a steep rise in emergency traffic on newsrooms of companies in the affected areas. Most of the traffic coming from mobile devices by means of social channels.

A social newsroom can play a key role in coherent and effective emergency communications. The visitor statistics above clearly indicate the spike in traffic to a newsroom as the winds and rains from Irma came to Georgia.

Pre- and post emergency communications

The statistics below clearly indicate the pre-hurricane pro-active communications efforts of an organization in the aviation industry, and how it picked up post-storm disaster recovery messaging to stakeholders.

The difference between unique and total amount of visitors indicates there is a large audience that frequently returns to the website looking for the latest updates.

Platform and channel agnostic publishing

A key aspect for successful communications during a crisis situation is the ability to publish single origin news messaging that stands out and catches attention on the main social channels. Additionally, the destination link should take readers to a platform agnostic page that renders well on mobile devices, (desktop) computers, and in all major browsers.

“Can’t connect to server”

So what happens when a crisis hits? Traffic to your newsroom is great, but a sudden influx of traffic that is too large, could crash your site.

An important aspect of newsroom infrastructure during an emergency is auto scaling. Auto scaling allows better availability of your newsroom during sudden spike traffic incidents. If configured correctly, it will launch instances in new geographical Availability Zones. In other words, if one physical server park is compromised, it will automatically switch to servers in a different geographical location. Additionally, and more commonly known, auto scaling ensures that your newsroom always has the right amount of capacity to handle the current traffic demands.

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail"

When a natural disaster occurs, organizations can build lasting trust with communities by being reliable purveyors of information, to warn, reassure and sometimes rescue their audiences in affected areas.

Yet many well-intentioned organizations miss this critical opportunity through the ‘that won’t happen to us’ mindset. If you wait until a crisis hits to ask whether your newsroom auto-scales, whether your audience knows where to reach you, or who makes up your crisis communication team, it is usually already too late.

Ultimately, whether you are a large organization in a metropolitan city, or a small mom and pop store in a rural area, the key difference between an effective and ineffective response to crises, usually ends up being the preparation you put in beforehand.

Download our white paper on how to prepare your newsroom for a crisis; presenting a systematic approach to a seamless and smarter crisis management, specified per phase:

  1. Pre-crisis: How to prepare for when the unexpected happens.
  2. During: How to systematically use your newsroom and leverage social channels to get the message out.
  3. Post-crisis: the importance of SEO in the aftermath of a crisis.

Three brands giving back to the community in wake of Hurricane Harvey

Within the last month, two Tropical hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, devastated communities in the southern parts of the United States and its surrounding regions.

Though Hurricane Harvey may have subsided, the devastating effects of the tropical storm are far from over. The Category 4 storm left thousands of residents in Texas and Louisiana homeless and without access to essentials, such as food, clean drinking water, sanitary and health services.

During this difficult time, it is not uncommon to see brands giving back to the community, usually in some form of monetary donation for relief in disaster-afflicted areas.

However, some brands and its representatives have gone above and beyond to give back to the community. These acts of service, often led by courageous employees, help turn the brand into more than just an organization; the brand become a symbol of community, courage, and resilience.

 Here are three brands and its employees, that went above and beyond the call of duty.

Whataburger: Whatever It Takes

Whataburger, a Texas based restaurant chain closed all of its Houston locations on Monday, August 28. However, some customers were unable to leave the restaurants due to rapidly rising floodwaters.

When emergency teams in Houston asked boat owners to help reach people stranded in high water, Whataburger activated its own team to rescue those stranded in our restaurants.


The company has also worked hard to provide financial support to local food banks and reopen restaurants in hurricane affected areas like Corpus Christi.

Read Whataburger's story here.

Cook Children's: Saving lives on the hood of a news crew van

As Hurricane Harvey approached Corpus Christi, Texas on August 25, ten critically ill babies needed to be urgently relocated.

Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, answered the call and housed all ten babies in their NICU unit.

Read the full story here.

Another act of personal heroism comes from Candace Wilson, a Cook's Children pediatric nurse, who joined rescue efforts on Port Arthur, Texas. 

According to the story on Checkup Newsroom: "At one point, the PICU nurse accustomed to treating pediatric patients in a controlled environment found herself with an evacuee who was having trouble breathing. She started digging through equipment coming out of the nursing home and found a nebulizer. The only problem was, she didn’t have power to make it work. Instead of giving up, Wilson found a news crew van and began beating on the door. They were able to provide her an extension cord and she set up the machine right there on the hood of the vehicle."

Read the full story here.

Ace Hardware: We will be open tomorrow… We are not leaving

As flooding and devastation swept into Southeast Texas, hardware cooperative Ace Hardware rallied its resources to provide emergency shipments of storm-related goods to affected regions.

Stores in the region remained open, including Cypress Ace Hardware, which posted the following message on its Facebook page:


According to the story on Ace Hardware's newsroom, "A heightened focus is being placed on getting necessary merchandise to some of the hardest hit areas, including Corpus Christi, Texas."