Twitter and Tornadoes

Image courtesy of thenewyorktimes.com

Yesterday was a historic day for Alabama and the entire Southeast as a whole. Tornadoes ripped through six states, leaving entire cities destroyed and almost 300 people dead. According to The National Weather Service, deaths were the most since a tornado outbreak killed 315 people in 1974. Tuscaloosa, AL got hit the hardest and 15 students at the University of Alabama were killed. The university has since canceled final exams and postponed May commencement to August.

So, how does social media play into this story? Well besides the citizen journalism obviousness, there are a few ways. Perhaps the most significant is how it played a role after the storms. And no, I don’t just mean residents tweeting images of the damage. This morning out of concern for a sorority sister I recently saw last week who lives in Tuscaloosa, I went to her Facebook page. Most of her wall was full of posts from concerned friends and family members asking if she was alright. In one of her comments back to them, she said that she was OK asked if someone could call her mom to inform she was alright since the phone lines had died. Later that day, she put out a post saying that her apartment was not damaged and people who did not have a place to say were welcome to stay with her.

Thanks to social media, she was able to inform her family she was alright. Another thanks to smartphones, considering Internet connections were down and she was able to get on Facebook through her 3G web.

Another aspect of the social media-natural disaster web I noticed was the quality and access of images and video released this morning (check out these photos from MSNBC readers). Maybe it’s just me but it seems like the ability to capture a tornado a mile away on video was a feat only accomplished by the incredibly brave…or incredibly stupid based on how you look at it. I mean how many people carried video cameras on their person before the invention of video on cell phones? I’d venture to say very few. Check out this video to see what I mean.

But now with almost every phone having video capabilities, getting images and photos of these horrendous storms is not an accomplishment for storm chasers, as we found out this morning when the storms had passed. Thanks to this technology, ordinary people who happened to unsafely out on the roads when the tornados hit were able to capture photos and video not typical of what we would have seen 10 years ago.

While I pray that something like this does not happen for a very long time again, maybe by having the ability to interact with not only the storm, but each other through social media, we will gain knowledge about how they work and how we can better prepare.

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