Connecting Neighbors through Social MediaPosted on by
By: Sarah Leary
Online communication and social networks are changing the way that people communicate. Today, people are able to relay messages to those around them and those across the world nearly instantly. This instant communication is playing a critical role in emergency communication.
When the largest earthquake since 1989 hit Napa, California, and the greater San Francisco Bay Area in August 2014, neighbors and local agencies were quick to turn to social media to communicate updates and information about the damage and safety precautions. One of the social networks utilized was the private social network for neighborhoods, Nextdoor, which creates social networks and communication channels specific to individuals’ neighborhoods.
Within minutes of the earthquake, residents used Nextdoor to send urgent alerts out to their communities, warning their neighbors to take cover in doorways, watch out for crumbling chimneys, and keep an eye out for scared and flighty pets. In the days following the quake, neighbors continued to use this new social network to share neighborhood-specific tips on clean-up efforts, offer shelter to neighbors in need, and report sightings of lost pets in the area.
Several Nextdoor agency partners, including both the City of Napa and the City of American Canyon, used social media to inform residents of damages, advice for contacting emergency personnel, school closures, and more. In many areas, social media was used to advise residents to keep an eye out for the sound or smell of leaking gas lines and provided road closure updates.
An incredible number of social media conversations in the greater San Francisco Bay Area that day were related to the earthquake– demonstrating that a connected community is indeed a stronger community. Neighbors connected with neighbors, passing along the latest information on power outages, road closures, and damage reports.
Similarly, during the flash flooding and historic rainfall in Houston, Texas this May, the Houston Office of Emergency Management also turned to social media to send out important safety updates and urgent safety alerts to residents across the city.
“During times of emergency and natural disasters, it is often neighbors who are able to best help each other,” said Rick Flanagan, Emergency Management Coordinator at the Houston Office of Emergency Management. Social media “has played a vital role in, not only helping our residents connected, but giving us an effective way to work directly with residents to make Houston a more resilient, prepared city.”
The ability to connect with the community online rapidly closed the communication gap that previously existed between residents and emergency services.
For towns that have experienced more than their fair share of natural disasters, like the City of Moore, Oklahoma, which has been plagued by tornadoes, social media platforms offer a way to connect communities and increase resiliency.
“The more connected you are to your neighbors, friends, and family, the more invested you are in your community. We have people that have gone through disaster and destruction and they have chosen to stay,” said Jayme Shelton, marketing specialist for the City of Moore. “I think Moore citizens choose to stay because of the people.”
Shelton noted, “We come together as a community during times of disaster, and it would be great if we kept that going throughout the year. We don’t have to have a disaster hit us to know your neighbors.” Social media platforms play a big part in connecting neighbors, community leaders, and emergency management resources.
In 2010, the Pew Research Center released a report stating that 28 percent of Americans do not know a single neighbor by name, and only 29 percent know one neighbor by name.
Social media has enhanced how public agencies and residents work together to build more resilient communities. Public safety agencies across the country are increasingly combining the power of social networks with the power of connected neighbors to help create safer more resilient communities – whether the emergency is a flooding in Texas, an earthquake in California, or a tornado in Oklahoma.
If neighbors are able to be better connected, they will be much more resilient and prepared for anything that comes their way.
Sarah Leary is the Co-Founder and Vice President of Marketing and Operations at Nextdoor, a free and private social network for neighborhoods.