Case study 6 lessons_for_local_governments_from_hurricane_sandy
6 Lessons for Local Governments from Hurricane SandyThe SuperstormHurricane Sandy, the largest recorded Atlantic hurricane ever, struck the Caribbean andthe Eastern Seaboard in late October 2012, causing and estimated $56.5 billion indamages and causing the death of more than 250 people. In terms of the numbers, itwas one of the most devastating storms in recent memory.The Super Social ResponseAnd yet, the response to the crisis was, and continues to be, one of the smoothest, mostcoordinated and efficient responses – thanks in large part to the power of social media.Social media is a robust tool when it comes to uniting emergency response efforts andconnecting people in times of crisis. Users of online networks quickly mobilize in a crisisto provide real-time information, spread important public safety messaging andcoordinate relief efforts.Lessons LearnedNew York City (NYC) did an admirable job using social media during the emergency,and local governments can learn a lot from what went well in this situation. Localgovernments who tap into the power of social networks stand a better chance of keepingtheir residents informed and safe in our modern world.1. IT Infrastructure is Key. First, the storm hit a very tech-savvy population, a largepercentage of which already had devices and were connected to existing networks.Increasingly, the focus isn’t on technology but on ensuring connectivity. Second,NYC, as part of its digital strategy roadmap, had an existing OPEN DATA initiative(cloud-based, secure servers) that meant it could still provide reliable, real-timeaccess and info to residents and community organizations who wanted to help.2. Learn from Past Mistakes. NYC learned from its challenges dealing with 2011’sHurricane Irene and was better prepared this time round. Even if your localgovernment doesn’t have a digital strategy in place, it’s still a good idea to updatethat operational plan with social media in mind.3. Harness Goodwill. Never underestimate the power of cooperation and theoutpouring of goodwill from people in the face of a crisis. During Hurricane Sandy,people wanted to help, and organized grassroots efforts, from meetup hackathons toOccupy Sandy to crowdsourcing funds for rebuilding efforts. These efforts arewelcome and needed, but often lack emergency experience and can sometimeseven hamper official efforts. If local governments are engaged online, they are helpfocus these goodwill efforts into effective channels and connect community effortswith the correct authorities.4. Partner with Helpful Brands and Organizations. There are lots of brands – fromRed Cross to Duracell – who want to be seen as helpful in an emergency. Localgovernments can leverage this brand interest in an emergency to ensure thatbrand involvement is genuinely helpful. Local governments can align their interestsprior to an emergency, use brands as part of outreach efforts during an emergency,and make specific requests in the event of an emergency.
5. Beware the Spread of Misinformation. In the digital age social media can be adouble-edged sword when it comes to emergency response (from scammers preyingon disaster victims to the instant spread of rumours on platforms like Twitter). Localgovernments should be aware of this risk, and work to correct misinformation andremind people of reliable sources of information. It’s important for local governmentsto check their sources of information before broadcasting and determine a reliablenetwork of allies and partners to help disseminate information or squashmisinformation.6. Don’t Ignore ‘Traditional Media’. Not everyone is on social media and in a time ofcrisis, radio messages and televised announcements can carry more weight than a140-character tweet. The same principles of communications apply in an emergency:think about the habits of your audience (the demographic of your community andhow those people already communicate – with each other and with you). This isparticularly important in remote or smaller communities where cell phone/internetcoverage may be spotty. Many cell phone providers and web providers were offlinefor days once Hurricane Sandy hit.Things to Think About:• Is your crisiscommunication plan up-to-date?• Is your plan coordinatedwith neighbouringcommunities?• Is IT part of your planningand emergency simulationtraining?• Have you identified keyinfluencers, those that canbe relied upon to help youkeep people informed andsafe?It’s important to remember that it is people who make a difference in emergencysituations – the first responders saving lives on the ground, the volunteers running theevacuation centres – and local governments can support and coordinate these efforts ifthey have an effective social media presence.Interested in learning more about crisis communications, the role of social media andemergency response? Contact Kendallwood. We’d love to connect with you.