Social media offers 21st century solutions to disaster

HOUSTON (WVLT/CNN) — Hundreds of Texans searched for help over the weekend by posting on social media, tweeting their addresses to emergency officials and organizing rescue missions through Facebook.

Posts with pictures of victims stranded in floodwaters have circulated throughout the internet, going viral on social media pages and reaching the ears and eyes of those who could lend help.

A representative from the Houston Bus Metro said many people have turned to social media asking for help during this devastating time. Some are using a Facebook tool to mark themselves “safe” and notify friends.

“Once you do that, it takes you to a page, that just has like one big giant forum for everyone that’s marked themselves safe. There’s just a great community of information that you wouldn’t have otherwise.” Houston Metro Representative Brent Taylor said.

CNN reports this is the first time the United States has seen a disaster of this scale in the era of social media. The last time a hurricane ranked Category 3 or higher made landfall in the country, Twitter hadn’t even been created yet.

In many parts of Texas affected by the storms and high waters, cell phone towers remained functional, and citizens could read and post updates on emergency situations.

Some officials told locals that posting on social media should not be a replacement for calling 911.

“Do not report your information on social media sites,” the U.S. Coast Guard said Sunday.

However, rescuers told CNN they had a lot of calls for help coming in through social media. Those calls also brought up the problems social media could present in a disaster situation.

False information was circulated via social media throughout the weekend, and officials were forced to scramble and squash all false rumors and stories.

On Friday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said that “false forecasts and irresponsible rumors on social media” had interfered with the city’s efforts to let the public know what was going on. He advised residents to “continue to monitor mainstream news sources for updates on the weather.”

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