So reads a message on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Facebook page -- an appeal to get 91,000 “friends” to spread a message to Gulf Coast residents facing Hurricane Isaac.
In that message, the disaster-response agency was looking to avoid congested phone lines by encouraging residents to alert family members of their well-being using texts and social media. It was emblematic of a governmentwide effort to utilize social media as a key tool in distributing rapidly changing information to large quantities of people in a timely matter.
From FEMA to the White House to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, agencies have taken to Facebook and Twitter to provide tips for preparation, promote distress hotlines and track the progress of the storm.
“Isaac will likely bring power outages. Charge cell phone now & keep flashlight, radio & extra batteries handy,” read one Tweet from @FEMA, an account with more than 131,000 followers.
WhiteHouse.gov’s homepage displays a graphic titled “Responding to Isaac,” which links to information on the steps the administration has taken to prepare for the storm. It has also taken to Twitter to spread the word -- and with its more than 3 million followers, it has much greater reach than any individual agency -- about hurricane provisions.
The White House has relied heavily on Ready.gov, a FEMA website and Twitter account (@Readydotgov) dedicated to helping residents prepare for disasters such as hurricanes. (You may best remember the website for promoting the purchase of duct tape in anticipation of a chemical attack.) The website lists what to do before the hurricane (build an emergency kit, make a family communications plan), during the storm (turn of utilities, ensure fresh water supply) and after (text 4FEMA if you need emergency shelter).
The hurricane first hit land in southeastern Louisiana late Tuesday, with winds reaching 70 miles per hour. (Source? Why, the National Weather Service’s Twitter account, of course.)