Surviving a Tornado with Social Media

Today has been a crazy day in my hometown Tampa (yes, I actually live in Tampa although I spend a ton of time in DC).

Tons of rain all day with threats of tornado all day. The wife and I stayed at home all day and I found it interesting to see which technology which we used to stay in contact with updates and with friends.

So here’s my overview:

1) Television – As it is a Sunday, we’ve been spending most of the day watching TV while on the couch.

Good news for TV weather alerts – there were warnings at the bottom of our screen when things got worse & even local news interrupted. This definitely caught our attention.

Bad news – we spent part of the day watching Mad Men on Netflix. No television warnings then.

2) Text messaging alerts – We live right near University of South Florida and are signed up for emergency alerts. When things got worse and a tornado was nearing campus, my wife received a text message with alert. That’s where we first heard things were getting worse.

Key note – My wife says that USF pushed students and faculty multiple times to sign up for emergency alerts (it’s not just hidden and promoted occasionally) – key is not having the tech, but having the subscribers.

Text messaging is also where multiple Tampa friends texted us to warn us of the incoming tornado.

3) Sirens – Since we live across from USF, we heard some old school sirens when the tornado came near that encouraged folks to find shelter. Was super loud sirens plus clear speach that was useful (although kind of sounds like a prison break from a movie)

4) Facebook – I checked Facebook multiple times throughout the day but wasn’t useful for me in terms of weather as most of my friends are outside of Tampa so most of my updates ended up being about Newsroom & European soccer.

5) Twitter – Once we knew things were bad, we locked ourselves (cats included) in our bathroom to be safe. This is where Twitter was super handy.

I quickly searched for tornado and was able to find a few key accounts from various official weather sources that provided updates every few minutes plus I followed the #usf hashtag and got numerous citizen reporting.

This is also where I found out that all was clear

Summary – This is just one example of why cities need to use multiple communication channels to communicate. You need it all – television, text messaging, social media, and more. And as always, build the audience before you need it. Build the distribution before you need it.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Really appreciate the text message weather alerts I get on my phone – even when I’ve been on the road, I’ve been able to call my wife and inquire if she is taking precautionary actions as a storm seems to be approaching.

Corey McCarren

Ah I forgot to watch Newsroom!

I imagine tornadoes are scary in Florida where basements aren’t common. Glad to hear there were no tornadoes, though, and that you and your wife are safe. Do towns use text alerts for severe weather as well?

Stacy Williams, APR

Great article! Wanted to let you know Hillsborough County (where Tampa is located) gov’t also has a new emergency alert service (email and text based) on our website at: http://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/list.aspx that you can sign up for. We have been putting out messages regularly on TS Debby affects this week and have gotten alot of new subscribers not surprisingly. NWS alerts are also important though for purely weather-based notices.