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As Hurricane Sandy hits, social nets light up

People, government agencies use Twitter, Facebook, Google+ to get message out

As Hurricane Sandy roars up the East Coast, residents, news organizations and government agencies are taking to social networks to get their messages out.

The hurricane is bearing down, bringing rain, wind gusts over 70 mph and flooding. East Coast residents have been boarding up their homes, stocking up on food, water and batteries to ride out the storm and the expected widespread power outages.

FEMA is using Twitter and Twitpics to give people tips on preparing for Hurricane Sandy. This helpful dog is holding a FEMA sign that reads, "Preparing your pets for emergencies makes sense. Get ready now."

People also have been posting on Twitter, Facebook and Google+, to let friends and family if they're OK and ready to bear the brunt of the storm. Social network users also are acting as weather journalists, posting photos and video of giant waves crashing into the shore, flooded streets and empty shelves in their grocery stores.

News services, airlines and government agencies also are using social networks to get out information about storm-related news. With more than 10,000 flights across the country canceled, airlines, including U.S. Airways and American Airlines and are trying to keep passengers updated.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, better known as FEMA, is posting tweets about who to follow on Twitter about the latest information for particular states, as well as offering information about preparing for the storm to hit.

"Phone lines may be congested during/after #Sandy. Let loved ones know you're OK by sending a text or updating your social networks," FEMA tweeted Monday.

A lot of traffic on Twitter is centered around the hurricane. Words and phrases like FEMA, New Jersey andBrooklyn are showing up on the site's top Trends list. New Jersey and Brooklyn are expected to take a direct hit from the storm.

For its part, Facebook has set up a community page for Hurricane Sandy, that grabbed more than 21,000 likes and with posts of YouTube videos and images of the storm, as well as safety warnings.

And Google has put up an interactive map (http://google.org/crisismap/2012-sandy ) that tracks Hurricane Sandy's progress and offers information on storm surges, forecasts and where to find emergency shelters.

The American Red Cross has an app called Hurricane that helps users update friends and family by simultaneously sending out messages on Facebook, Twitter, text and email. The app also offers locations of open Red Cross shelters, emergency plan checklists and location-based weather alerts.

"Social media has become the fastest method of disseminating information to a wide number of people," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research. "For many people, it has become the de facto standard way communicating."

Kerravala, however, noted that people need to be aware that there could be a generational disconnect. Grandpa and your great aunt may not be going online as much to get your "I'm safe" message.

"Most of the senior generation won't be using it so it can't be the only form of notification," he added. "But I think there's a large percentage of the world that looks to Facebook and Twitter first. It's fast, easy and can be accessed from anywhere on almost any device."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Read more about social media in Computerworld's Social Media Topic Center.


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