Thursday, September 18, 2008

Me, Twitter and Hurricane Ike

Although I never really mention the hospital by name... most of my readers know where I work. Recently we went through somewhat of a disaster. We have always talked about using twitter, and social media in crisis communication but it is not until it really happens that you figure out how it works.

So I knew the plan in case of emergency I should communicate out our status online from home using our social media channels and the web site. So the wind was blowing and the trees came down and the power went out, and never came back on... that is when I realized DSL does not work without power. (Note to self buy a wireless card)

But what I did have was my blackberry and cell phone. So my boss called the next day from the ride out command center and gave me the update, so I sent out the first tweet. I have twitter set up to feed to our Facebook so I was covering 2 bases with that.

Hospital Name fared well through #Ike all patients and staff are safe. We remain closed through the weekend

That same day they found someone who had power to update the website. Now I had something to link to.

Hospital Name will be closed for the remainder of today and there will be no appointments Monday Sept 15

With no power for 90% of the city patients and employees alike were following these tweets. We went from 150 followers to 275 followers in 3 days.

#Ike update...Limited patient appointments tomorrow and back to full operations on Wed Sept 17

We left on a Thursday night and got back on a Wednesday morning and of course announced our full operation but then began to use twitter to espress our needs. The response to this was amazing. Not only local media but people from as far as Boston were retweeting our need for blood and platelets!

Due to #Ike, blood supplies are severely depleted & a large number of patients at require daily transfusions.

On a personal note it was comforting to hear from my friends, colleagues and total strangers when I was at home in the dark disconnected from the world. During the night of the storm I went down stairs to find water coming into my entry way. After that I could not really sleep anymore. Sitting there in the dark watching my twitter stream on my phone made me feel a little safer somehow. Maybe it was just the fact that I knew that others out there knew where I was, and I knew where they were? When I got back to work on Wednesday, I heard others tell very similar stories. One person told me that for her it was Facebook. She kept track of where all of here people were and even found gas thanks to Facebook and her cell phone.

What would I do differently... I think I could have sent more twitter messages, but personally I was a little shaken up and tending to my children, but if anything like this ever happens again, I think I have a better handle on how powerful a tool this really is during crisis and how to harness the power.


Stephen said...

I didn't realize that you were behind that feed; it was good to have the information coming to me.

I have set up a couple of things that have made my twittering more usable for emergency situations; of course there's the SMS capability but also there a couple of hacks that make emailing to twitter possible. Also, given a server, you can set up some hacks to make responses from twitter feed back to you via email.

I mention email not because it's particularly useful in and of itself in emergencies (or on the road or whatever) but the fact that two-way pagers can do email makes this a pretty valuable tool ( e.g. if you have to be on the road, or as a backup for SMS service).

Jennifer Texada said...

I would love to hear more about other tools you know of to make this process more effective, and share them with the blog readers. Thanks for the feedback!

jacqueline said...

Jennifer, I used twitter to follow my people and received excellent updates on what was out, what wasn't, how bad downtown looked, etc. I also had a nod from a friend on twitter that reminded me to go check out my apartment complex. Glad I did because I had water issues.

After the hurricane, Facebook allowed me to find my friends so I knew they were ok.

But out of all these tools, text messaging still worked like magic.

Shamsha said...

Glad to know you and your family are safe. I used Facebook to track friends and family after the hurricane. Came in handy!

JSimon9230 said...

Thanks, Jennifer! It was very comforting Twittering during the storm and reading other Twitters. It was a little bit of civilization while chaos whirled outside!