Twitter and the Hurricane Ike Community

Life as it is, Twitter

Hurricane Ike passed through this area more than a week ago, and the effects are still very present. I sat in a McDonalds today – the only one in the area that was open – and listened to a mother explain to her young daughter that they couldn’t watch anything on TV at home because they still had no power, but now they could have a hot meal. But while there are still bumps in the road ahead of us as we clean up, what I will remember from Ike is the night of the storm itself and the community that kept me company.

Watching Ike Through the Night

After the height of the storm – about the time I had taken this photo – the power had gone off shortly before and the waiting began. But I was in touch with so many people that night, i was able to sit in my living room in the dark with my computer and phone and candles and participate in a conversation about the storm – we shared stories of when we lost power, the noises we heard as trees broke and crashed, the fears as one of us thought their house was on fire. We had each other through the storm.

A couple of situations underscored this comforting community for me. I had been following on Twitter the National Hurricane Center’s @HurricaneIke account and they were correcting news errors about tornadoes and sending links to show radar imagery. They even shared the way the downtown buildings were creating blind spots and false indications of tornadoes. A calm voice of reason and knowledge. But turning on the radio, I found other voices that were not as calm, callers that were alone and frightened and isolated from one another except for the radio, all in the dark as I was, but without the reassuring chatter of friends and experts as we on Twitter had with one another.

The next couple of days saw a near-collapse of the cellular voice and data networks in the area. Calls may or may not work at any given time, but the SMS-based technology of Twitter kept us still in touch. We knew who had power and who didn’t. People with power were opening their doors to the people without, and we knew the condition of the city as people checked in with their zip codes. (This also lead to someone messaging me on twitter to check on their brother as they realized I lived in the same neighborhood.) Messages got out about who needed help, and what people were doing to pass the time in the heat of a city with no air conditioning. Tips were given on how to check for power, or where generators could be found, and what sort of nails would best hold tarps in place.

The final way this community worked for me was when I started searching those messages on Twitter hashtagged with #ike, so that they could be viewed as a whole. I got the idea to search for my zipcode as well, and found others that lived near me that had also shared their stories and community during and after the storm. I added them to the list of people I follow on twitter and my own community on-line grew to include the people in my geographic community.

I even found the way to express some of my own feelings from the tweet of a neighbor:

HughesJW: Today I’ll try to take a step out of crisis mode and begin finding a new normal. Still grieving loss of old normal, #Ike.

The final irony is that this new community on Twitter, the same internet service that has had so many availability problems, turned out to provide the stability that we needed to get through this storm together.

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  1. […] the night of the storm. I hadn’t seen any of that because all of us were able to continue touching one another with news and hope and human connection through the storm through Twitter. Based on SMS, Twitter also proved reliable as a communication medium the next few days as cellular […]

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