Hurricane Tech – What Government is Doing

I’ve been watching the Hurricane bear down the East Coast and been following what various agencies are using for technology.

Was trying to put together what each agency should need for communications in disaster

1) Web & capacity- NYC.gov went down for a little while yesterday and people were quite upset. Show’s the need for a couple things- updated website with most recent content at all times. And needs to be up at all times – you need hosting in the cloud with room to grow for spikes – like Akamai or Amazon cloud. Side note – lots of folks accessing key sites on mobile so need a mobile friendly website.

Emergencies really show need for federal and state/local to work together. While it’s great to get the official FEMA.gov information, as a citizen you often look first to the city and county official and their statements.

2) Email – Email is still key to push out information. I received a number of key messages from officials via email – especially good for tactical orders.

3) Social media – My Facebook & Twitter feeds were full of hurricane updates today. Lots of it were friends sharing relevant government information (like the text message program below). It’s key for government to engage in these channels and enable sharing as this is where a ton of volume is occurring.

4) Text message is key – I love how FEMA made it really easy to get key basic info via text. During the hurricane they were promoting “Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362.”

Especially important as during disasters, power can go out (kill the home Internet and landline). Also the phone lines can get overwhelmed making it hard to make calls out – but still easy to text.

5) SEO – During a disaster, most people still go to search to find out information. You want government information to be at the top. Google likes .gov sites so this is usually doable – but you need to do some basics.

In general, most of these ideas are parts of any good government communication. Good communication in disasters does require prep and practice – you need good people & technology in place before problems happen.

What else is missing? What’s key for disaster prep?

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Allison Primack

Personally, I relied heavily on BBM yesterday to contact my sister and get updates. I learned quickly from the earthquake earlier this week that it is a reliable form of communication and doesn’t use much of my battery. She was able to contact me with updates from California, even when I couldn’t access them here.

I think there should be more focus on the text messaging idea. Especially when people are losing power, it is difficult to justify surfing the web/Twitter to get news (I know on my Blackberry, loading weather.com on my browser will knock at least 20% of my battery life. Turning on WiFi makes this even worse, because constantly searching for signals kills the battery quickly). Also, if we are supposed to rely on email/websites to get information on the storms from our cell phones, what happens to those who don’t have smart phones?

The key to disaster prep is that it needs to be simple, easy to use, and accessible to everyone. While all the technology mentioned above has helped me and my family help prepare for Irene, there needs to be some more ideas in place that use technology in a more conscious way for when we lose power.

Brett de Boisserre

Great point about testing as a successful ongoing tool to communicate when everything else is down. I couldn’t reach any family within the first hour after the earthquake. But, we were all testing each other the entire time that cell and landlines were down. I also received a text from local government about the quake being a 5.9 about 15 minutes after the event. Personally my family falls back on 2-way radios that we keep charged in the house. I can get about a mile on those things with no interference on the band.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

Fast Company has an interesting article on this topic – http://www.fastcompany.com/1775828/why-text-messages-arent-enough-when-disaster-strikes. They make an interesting point at the end, ”

Sadly, during emergencies, some people are “more equal than others” when it comes to communication. Older individuals, the less well-off, Luddites, and those who simply haven’t acclimated themselves to the dubious joys of text messages, Facebook, or Twitter will face significant difficulties in keeping tabs on loved ones when the worst happens. “