Skip to main content

Hurricane Sandy: NYC tweets, Instagrams, and crowdsources an unfolding disaster

Hurricane Sandy: NYC tweets, Instagrams, and crowdsources an unfolding disaster

/

From tweets to SMS to data dumps, social media goes broad and deep in a disaster

Share this story

nasa_satellite_image_hurricane_sandy
nasa_satellite_image_hurricane_sandy

If you’ve been following Hurricane Sandy closely, you’ve probably gotten information the same way most of us do: through a combination of eyewitness information on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and official reports from news outlets. But it’s also likely you’ve seen a livestreamed press conference from Mayor Bloomberg, followed the Mayor’s Twitter account, or taken a look at the WNYC and Google Crisis Maps, both of which were powered by information from New York’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM). It’s part of a renewed effort by NYC’s government to turn the data that’s accumulated every day into a comprehensive source of public information.

"The more information people have and the more they feel they’re being listened to, the safer they feel."

In recent years, New York’s administration has emphasized both social media and raw data distribution, reasoning that it can reach more people by packaging what it’s collected for enthusiasts to work with than trying to develop everything on its own. "We are sharing as much information as possible," says NYC Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot, "so [the open data community] can help disseminate it and apply it." Outside emergencies, this strategy is most visible in the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which releases subway data in an open format and encouraged app development with a contest earlier this year. For Hurricane Sandy, Haot has also been centralizing Twitter and other media accounts, making sure consistent information goes out across the board. It’s something that wasn’t yet in place for Hurricane Irene, which swept the Eastern Seaboard during Haot’s first year in the newly-created CDO position. This information has always been disseminated, but now it’s going out directly — not just through the media channels that have temporarily lifted their paywalls ahead of Hurricane Sandy.

Theverge1_1020

Twitter, Haot says, is particularly important: it’s a way for citizens to get micro-updates and responses to their questions. "The more information people have and the more they feel they’re being listened to, the more comfortable they are and safer they feel." English speakers can visit @nycmayorsoffice, while Spanish speakers are directed to @nycgob, and Twitter will be promoting tweets with information about the hurricane, making it more likely that people who don’t follow the Mayor’s Office will get information. The plan echoes the postal code-based Lifeline system Twitter is deploying in Japan, but without the location-specific data used there. Communication between people and government also goes both ways. "On Twitter and Instagram," says Haot, "there’s incredible documentation happening across the various boroughs that helps us to better allocate resources... We get a lot of information that previously wasn’t there." Users aren’t just pleasing their followers by posting pictures of flooded streets — they’re telling the city where there’s trouble.

"On Twitter and Instagram, there’s incredible documentation happening... We get a lot of information that previously wasn't there."

This increased new media communication is generally great news. But if you haven’t made the jump to a smartphone (as about half of American phone users still haven’t), don’t have steady internet access, or are affected by a hurricane-induced blackout, the benefits may seem academic. When a certain amount of the population has adopted new technology, there’s a tendency to forget about the people who don’t have access to it. Haot tells The Verge that the administration is doing its best to avoid this. Users can follow the emergency Twitter feed through SMS by texting "follow NotifyNYC" to 40404, and certain text alerts are sent to everyone in a given area, regardless of whether they’ve signed up for the service. The FCC has urged people to use SMS during the hurricane, as it can be more reliable than voice messages and remains available even when power is down. Police and Housing Authority volunteers, meanwhile, were sent out to alert people of evacuations and reach out to the homeless population.

It’s hard to say whether the current system is leading to better evacuations and preparedness, but Haot tells us reactions to a bigger new media presence have been positive. Even when the information isn’t too different from what you’d see elsewhere, it provides a direct link between citizens and government. People "feel informed," she says. "They feel clued in, they feel like people will get back to them if needed." And if Hurricane Sandy is as bad as predicted, responsive city governments will be badly needed in the coming weeks.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 25 Not just you

E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.