Digital Tool Tuesday — Disaster tips

Lead image from "The Flood: What We Saw" published at

Lead image from “The Flood: What We Saw” published at

Last week, my state gurgled under 20 inches of rain, roads buckles, dams split open, and at least several neighborhoods in my city were under water.

I’m no longer with The State, so I wasn’t able to discern the thinking behind its disaster coverage. But from my point to view it was stellar, with constant live updates paired with great individual storytelling opportunities with words, video and photos.

I thought about what digital tools might be helpful for getting through a disaster, and am sharing some good practices that you might employ if you have a similar situation.

Find more tips and links in this Dart Center guide.

You can use TV techniques to compete with TV: It’s hard not to turn on a TV for immediate news when a disaster strikes, but the ability to post video on all sorts of platforms can give you an edge.

TV reporters were posting short videos from the scene on social media before they even went live with their broadcasts. TV stations used Twitter and Facebook to tell viewer what was coming up next. News organizations can do that as well.

If people can’t get to a scene, raw video of the scene will help them understand what’s going on. I couldn’t drive out of my neighborhood for two days. Raw video of the nearby business district (without a talking head) helped me assess the damage for myself.

After Katrina, a TV station in New Orleans broadcast raw videos driving up and down certain streets. It was very helpful to those who couldn’t get to their homes yet.

Newspapers are getting better about live streaming. Keep encouraging it. People are disconnected to TV or just have a phone among their belongings. A good alternative is Periscope, which can give readers a glimpse of a situation.

Don’t be afraid to repeat information. Don’t be afraid to repeat information. People affected by a disaster have different needs at different times. Organize this as if your life depends on it. Create a PDF to download, or use Twitter cards spread the word about a specific piece of utility.

Set up a story — and update it often — that includes “real” utility tailored to a neighborhood. “Here’s where volunteers are organizing in the South Main Street neighborhood.” I saw too many shares about calling the Red Cross national hotline or a link to a national website, which didn’t turn out to be very useful.

Use interactive maps, or leverage good maps from disaster agencies. One map from our Department of Transportation showed closed roads, but if you zoomed in, it pixelated.  A county map of closed roads was much easier for me to discern how to get out of town.

Consider setting up special Facebook pages or a Tumblr for coverage of a disaster. In my neighborhood, a Facebook page generated hundreds of volunteers to cleanup sites. You can share their information from their pages and remain useful. You can repurpose older material to these pages or make them a destination for utility.

Push newsletter signups during a crisis so readers can get the latest information. Many of your readers might not know about the power of newsletters; tell them why it matters.

Some other tools to use

Google Person Finder: It’s a tool that allows people to say they’re OK. It’s worth exploring so someone on an online team can navigate it.

RebelMouse: It creates a nice compilation of social media on a particular topic

Twitter Moments: Twitter is curating the best tweets about a subject.

You have good digital practices during a disaster? Share your tips in the comments.


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