I didn’t really start using Twitter until being deployed with the Red Cross to the Boston Marathon disaster a year ago. I was never a fan. Now, it’s not only part of my day but a large part of my response to disasters.
This weekend I was a #DigiVol (Digitally Deployed Volunteer) for the @Redcross (American Red Cross). We were 1,200 miles away from the disaster zone, but still helping to make a difference. It was a short but wild adventure.
As tornadoes and thunderstorms bore down on the Midwest, our job was to take to social media and promote preparedness and safety. Our intention was to engage people to help calm and guide them.
For my shift, I was handed the keys to @RedcrossNETexas (The Official Twitter of NE Texas and SW Arkansas) and sent out on my mission. Watching weather radar, media outlets, and other posts from tornado chasers, I promoted the Red Cross Tornado App and gave tips on how to prepare and respond to the storm. My partners for the day, @Telesara (Sara Smith) and @Mindy_Hart (Mindy Hart) were also from Philadelphia.
I went for quite a spin around the block with the account. Hashtags — symbols placed in front of a word to help Twitter organize different topics — were flying. Some were obvious… #helpme, #scared, #missing, #disaster, and some were not. For example, #NoRotation came to designate clouds not moving in a twisting funnel.
We engaged scared people by telling them it was alright to be scared and guiding them on what to do next. All the while, we watched the destruction start to hit national news. It’s a very scary, hopeless feeling. You just want to do more. At the end of the shift, Sara and I guided a young middle school student on how to find her uncle amidst a destroyed town using #safeandwell, the Red Cross database to help let loved ones know you are okay.
Later, I was listening to a storm chaser on a radio feed talking to the National Weather Service (NWS) in Little Rock, AR. He was with a pastor from the Antioch Baptist Church in Conway, AR. They were opening a shelter there to provide immediate cover for victims who had just lost their homes. Another round of bad weather was on the way. The phones were down and they couldn’t get in touch with the Red Cross. They needed our help. The NWS wasn’t able to get in touch with Red Cross yet either.
I told Sara what I’d heard. She said she saw the Red Cross communicator near Conway online. I gave her all the information, and we relayed it to Arkansas from Philly. A few minutes later, a Handheld Amateur Radio Operator (HAM) with our team in Arkansas was on the air advising people in Conway that they’d gotten the message and were sending them Red Cross teams and supplies. We had made a difference to immediate disaster victims from 1,200 miles away.
Now, a day later, the Digital Volunteers of @RedCrossPhilly are still watching over the people of the Midwest. We stand ready, waiting to respond, to help them recover, using the best communications methods at our disposal.
In person, at the scene of the disaster, or in the virtual world of cyberspace, our mission remains the same: Help alleviate the suffering of victims of disaster.
Posted by Volunteer @PWine_1_1 (Peter Wine)