How Social Media Can Improve Resiliency Communications
Weather impacts many of the decisions we make, both as individuals and in business. In fact, weather is arguably the largest external swing factor in business: Each major weather event costs an average of $1 billion in economic losses, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. That’s why an effective resiliency communications strategy is vital for enterprises.
As a global resiliency consultant, I spent close to a decade equipping companies around the world to develop plans to effectively respond and react to disasters — including adverse weather scenarios varying from typhoons to winter storms. Between this experience and memories of my mom’s constant diligence preparing us for the storm season each year when I was growing up on the coast of Florida, I have a healthy respect for the weather and the havoc it can cause.
In October 2016, as I fled my home during the mandatory evacuation for Hurricane Matthew, I was looking at a forecast of a direct hit from a Category 4 hurricane with up to an 11-foot storm surge. I wasn’t sure what I would come home to — if anything. But I had done this before. Since the mid-’90s, I’ve been through storm evacuations. The seclusion, the fear and the unknown were all familiar territory.
Social Media: A Platform for Resiliency Communications
However, the last time I evacuated, I didn’t have social media available for communication — in 2004, I didn’t even have a smartphone. This time around, my experience was completely different. I could leverage the power of social media for real-time updates and feedback about the storm. Rather than sitting in a hotel room watching the news with no idea what was happening at home with my friends and family, I was in constant contact with the updates they were posting. The pieces of information I learned through social media included:
- Who was evacuating and who was staying put before the storm.
- Who needed help preparing for the storm.
- Where I could find supplies and which stores had generators, gas, water, bread and even wine in stock.
- What was happening live during the storm — shared via text, photo and video posts.
- Who was checking in as safe after the storm.
- Who had damage to their property.
- Who needed help and whom I could assist.
- When I was allowed to return home and what the condition of local services and utilities were.
Lessons Learned as a Resiliency Professional
Well-communicated messages from local authorities and community groups are key. With real-time communications, it doesn’t take long for rumors and conjecture to start. It’s crucial that local authorities provide information publicly, with as much detail as possible, to help avoid the rumor mill. I encourage setting definitive times that updates will be shared, as part of disaster planning, so that residents know when to expect updates (even if the update only says “no update yet”).
Our community social media group — usually reserved for talking about things like local events, politics and business specials — provided invaluable real-time information that made preparing for and responding to the storm significantly easier for residents. Having our mayor, several city commissioners and other officials as part of this group communication was also very helpful.
Connectivity is beyond critical in resiliency communications; it’s one of the most essential pieces of disaster response. Between local internet connectivity (at times powered by generators) and cellphone data plans, people were able to stay online and communicate — sending messages, photos and videos during and after the storm. People who are connected and informed seem to remain more calm.
The storm shifted at the last minute, moving just a few miles off the coast. Everyone in my area survived, and most only had minor damage to their property. We were very lucky. I truly believe social media made a big difference for all of us — by both giving our city officials an easy way to reach many people at once and providing all of us shoulders to lean on before, during and after the event.