This Just In: Social Media for Natural Disaster News

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Social media isn’t just all fun and branding anymore. Twice in seven days, I’ve seen it firsthand become the future of breaking news events: reporting faster and more detailed than CNN or The Weather Channel.



Social Media and the East Coast Earthquake

Our conference table and chairs started swaying side to side during a client meeting in Long Island City, NY.  We all looked at each other and then looked around. Did a really BIG truck just go by? Did terrorists strike in Manhattan?  That wasn’t just an earthquake in NY, was it?

“Check CNN’s site,” someone yelled, as we all lunged for our laptops and cell phones. “I should get a breaking news email in a minute,” someone else said.

I checked my Twitter stream on my smartphone. For the past two years, I’ve learned most breaking news on Twitter, so it didn’t even occur to me to turn on the TV or log on to CNN.

Sure enough, faster than you could say, “I don’t know why the darn Internet is being so slow,” there it was: reports of shaky ground from Virginia to Vermont. I was the first at the conference table to confirm it was an earthquake, and the first to report that the epicenter was in VA .

Social Media and Hurricane Irene

As all social media users know, the medium is not for monologues, it’s for dialogues: two-way communications.   A savvy social-media civilian on the Jersey shore established Jersey Shore Hurricane News on Facebook late last week to facilitate real-time ground-truth reports of Hurricane Irene related news for New Jersey.


The group surged from about 1,000 members Friday night to more than 26,000 by Monday morning.  Fans were seeking and sharing information on road closures and re-openings, as well as where to find gas stations that were still open and where to buy generators.

We got out of the NY/NJ area well in advance of Hurricane Irene, but I was agonizing over the news from my hometown of Long Beach Island, NJ.

In the Dark Ages—say, 1981 and earlier—we turned to our trusted network or local affiliate TV news anchor of choice when disaster struck. Count me now among the believers that any of us can be breaking news reporters as long as we can see and hear, and then access a publishing platform to report what we’ve seen and heard.

While repeatedly reminding fans “We are not professional forecasters; this is a service to keep you informed,” Jersey Shore Hurricane News delivered news on Facebook faster and more accurately than any other news source. The accuracy came from the participants, answering questions about rumors and sharing ground-truth observations.

No doubt this will be back for future disasters. And so will I.

Social Media Insights | The OR-DP POV

8 comments… add one

  • Courtney August 30, 2011 — 8:54 am edit

    I can’t tell you how amazingly helpful this was for so many of us. Not only were New Jerseyans keeping an eye on it, but people all across the US (some even further away) b/c they have family/friends here. These guys worked tirelessly to keep us all informed as quickly as we could send them the information. Their diligence to give us the correct information proved to be invaluable to us. Their family and friends should be very proud of them. I know I am, and I don’t even know them!

  • Nora DePalma August 30, 2011 — 8:57 am edit

    Weren’t they amazing, Courtney? Did you see the story about them in the Asbury Park Press today?

  • Jennifer August 30, 2011 — 9:00 am edit

    These are the best and I apperciate how fast they got any news out. I’m in VA but mostly all of my family is in Nj and NY and I was giving them news bout road closings and the likes before they even heard it…

  • Brenda August 30, 2011 — 9:17 am edit

    These guys and all the people that “liked” them on facebook and shared pictures and information are awesome. I live in SC now but have family and friends all over Jersey from Ocean County up to Union County and I was passing information on to them faster than they were able to get it up there…and the pictures…AMAZING!!!!! Thank you , thank you, thank you for starting this page and for keeping it going even through the clean up phase…makes being so far away not seem so far!!!!

  • Jennifer Burden @WorldMomsBlog August 30, 2011 — 10:03 am edit

    I was so relieved to have “liked” the Jersey Shore Hurricane News. During the storm I could find reports about my hometown where my parents were and my town further up the coast. It relieved anxieties and helped so many citizens out. I am so glad they not only had thus idea, but executed it fantastically. Thank you to those guys!

    Jennifer Burden

  • Ade August 30, 2011 — 1:09 pm edit

    My family had to evacuate and I can’t tell you how helpful it was to follow JSHN on Facebook…I was very worried about a lot of family at home plus the house itself but following this and seeing people post that my area was doing OK was a relief! Not to mention the updates on the roads etc since we had to drive back from western Pennsylvania. So helpful and thankful for this group!

  • Kristen August 30, 2011 — 1:17 pm edit

    @Courtney (first commenter) Justin Auciello, Tim Husar, and Dominick Solazzo are the three men behind JSHN. Justin is my brother, and yes, his family and I are so proud of the work he put into keeping New Jerseyites informed during Hurricane Irene! The three of them truly care about New Jersey, specifically the coastal regions, (all three are surfers) and are so happy to have served their community in this way! I hope everyone is cleaning up after all the flooding, downed trees, and power outages, and that everyone is safe and sound!

  • Michael Phillips February 19, 2012 — 4:17 pm edit

    The most useful site I use for weather in the northeast is at While other tv/radio weathermen talked about the storms the day before they struck, Weatherboy complimented what he was saying on-air with indepth descriptions and Q&A on Facebook. He was first to warn NJ about not only Hurricane Irene, but all the winterstorms that came in 2011 …including the infamous pre-Halloween storm last year, which he accurately called 5 days out. His no-hype approach to weather …but taking time to answer questions for his thousands of followers, makes him far better than traditional media + other Facebook fan pages for the weather.

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