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.