A Social Storm

Friday, brought a “hurricane without warning” to the DC metropolitan area. As has been the case with so many recent disruptions to daily life, social tools had another opportunity to demonstrate their ability to change the way we manage disruption. To be certain, this storm was a particular challenge; as cell network and landline phone problems challenged citizen access to this information.

Nevertheless, as someone who was fortunate to have power throughout the weekend, I was able to observe several aspects of the storm’s aftermath that struck me: it is now expected that social tools will be at the forefront of communication and conversation in time of shared need. Here are a few observations – noted just within ‘my’ network:

  • WUSA-9’s Andrea McCarren challenged the PEPCO spokesman with questions from citizens – collected over Facebook and Twitter. This was not Ms. McCarren harvesting complaints, she solicited these questions from her network in advance. Her work is becoming defined by social tools – the way she works is transforming, a bit of obvious truth that escapes many professionals.
  • On Facebook: friends who hadn’t lost power, but owned generators, offered them to anyone in their network who needed them.
  • Also on Facebook: another friend notified her network of a charity in need of ice, food and water for their weekend meal obligations.
  • The Dominion Power Twitter feed expressed regret over running into certain limits in its posting frequency, and indicated it would provide updates at regular intervals.
  • One local government spokesman asked citizens with power to open their homes to their neighbors who may not. The trouble with this is that one’s neighbors often share your fate – so people instead took to social tools to offer their homes for respite. (Full disclosure, I ended up running a small B&B myself – compensated by delightful evenings of conversation with friends who were suddenly freed from their calendar.)
  • One couple in Fredricksburg wrote to WTOP on Twitter, asking when power would be restored – the wife is on chemotherapy and cannot be without power for long. WTOP re-tweeted this message, and the Stafford County government contacted the couple (over Twitter) to offer assistance. Fortunately, the couple had already arranged for a hotel stay – else they likely would have contacted the County directly.

This last one is fascinating to me. The couple was not in need of County services, thankfully, but the County was listening. As were local news organizations. As were all of us. It is this listening that, to me, represents an irreversible change.

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Corey McCarren

Mobile definitely plays a huge role in social still being useful during emergencies since we can use our devices even when power is down. I’m glad to hear the “success” stories during the storm — I was in New York over the weekend, I’m still not sure whether or not I have power at my apartment. I’ll find out soon enough I suppose.

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John Bordeaux

One of my guests checked his power remotely by trying to log into his FIOS DVR using an iPhone app. When he was able to view ‘recorded shows,’ he knew that power had been restored…

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Samuel Lovett

Great snippets of life on social media. It was interesting this weekend to compare tweets by people in DC area with people in other parts of the world who had a very standard weekends. Goes to show how instantly the way people use social media changes in an emergency situation.

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Robert A. Moss

Thanks for the information about social media. We were without land line service for days and spotty cell phone connectivity. Thanks to texting I was able to stay in touch with friends and relatives, including my 16 year old son who was away for 10 days.

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David B. Grinberg

It appears to me that every time we have a major storm and power outage in the DC-area, it becomes more and more apparent to the “powers that be” who run our Government how critically important and essential telework and mobile technology have become. Hopefully, that message and wisdom will filter down to frontline managers and supervisors who still have a punch-the-clock mentality.

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John Bordeaux

These stories are great! I didn’t add a personal one, but should have. I was about to head to Woodbridge to see if my 81-year old mother had power, when I got a ping. She had just made a move in Words with Friends… If she was able to do that, she had wifi/internet/power. I used that chat feature to ask her to keep playing so I knew she was ok Saturday.

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John Bordeaux

@David, the necessity of flexible work arrangements will become more obvious, even for the line-of-sight managers. In 1992, the City of Los Angeles found itself largely cut off from its workforce in the San Fernando Valley due to the Northridge quake. Suddenly, they developed a telecommuting policy that passed muster for the emergency. Sadly, we don’t seem to change in the absence of catastrophe – but the changing weather patterns in DC, coupled with our (apparently fragile) infrastructure, will make disruption more the norm until we adapt our expectations and work norms to accommodate the new normal.

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