What happens when #socialmedia meets a Hurricane name #Harvey

We are not flooded and we are safe. My staff is safe. In 2003 I had a decision to make on where to put our servers and I opted for Atlanta. We had just had TS Allison and never lost service. Since then we have had Hurricane Ike and although my Houston web hosting support office worked for 3 weeks on a generator, we never lost service. And in 2017, as we are still going through Hurricane Harvey, we’ve never lost service. Atlanta still houses my servers and have taken the lead on things. And I have staff who took their laptops home and are working from their dry homes but surrounded by water. We are truly very fortunate. God continues to look out for us.

But as I sit at ground zero watching news reports something has really jumped out at me. How many times I’ve heard the word FaceBook in the last 3 days. We have had people come from all over Texas to help us. Strangers are coming here using social media and running rescue operations off Facebook. People are calling 911 and sitting on hold because the phone lines can’t hold them. Yet they are posting and sharing locations and getting help from friends, family and even a few out of town strangers. In the background, I hear the news anchors say people are contacting them for help through Facebook. I hear they are broadcasting live on their Facebook pages for people who don’t have a TV signal because their cable or power is out. Smart phones have become a basic necessity in our society.

Even as we ramped up our Emergency operations here ACTWD, the first thing I did was go to social media and post a notice that we were open but ask people to send emails because the phones are spotty in a natural disaster and I offered ACTWD’s FaceBook Page as a way to contact us as well as added a LiveChat Function, which I intend to keep after the flood waters receede.

But it has exceeded Facebook. This morning I woke up to a ringing phone and the caller was letting me know that friend’s elderly parents were trapped and they were trying to see if I could find some help for them. So I got up and the first thing I did was…you guessed it went to Facebook. Posted the need for help. And then moved on to nextdoor.com.

On nextdoor.com I posted the need to help this elderly couple. Next thing I know a local realtor, who is a hero, in my opinion, replied back to the post with a cell phone and with 45 minutes this couple was loaded into a boat. We had tried the more traditional routes and called the HPD numbers with no success. Without nextdoor, I would not have known Thomas and would have had no way to reach Thomas.

Simultaneously I had a second boat lined up through a friend that used to spend summers with us when she was a kid. We had lost touch only to become reacquainted through Facebook. And again, without Facebook, she would have been a memory of a sweet kind hearted child. Instead, I have got to see the extraordinary adult she had become. And in a strangers moment of need ready, with a boat and able to help.

The devastation of Houston and how this community has come together, may be puzzling to those outside this city. I know growing up in the shadow of New York, I would have never guessed Houston to be the multicultural city that it is. Although underwater, the city has the second largest theater district in the country, a full symphony, and ballet. Plus not to leave the Astros Rockets and Texans out, all three have made contributions to relief efforts.

But there was JJ Watt who, who upset by the images he saw took to Twitter to raise money to help his fellow Houstonians. He is matured to understand his roll in this community and that he is as much of an asset to the city as NASA. Through social media, he has leveraged that standing to raise money to help Houstonians. He’s now up to $2 Million and it keeps climbing. He as determined to help Houston as is to sack a QB on a Sunday.

I suppose I could continue on with how the use of Social Media helped Houston and its residents navigate these horrible few days we will long remember. But what the take away should be for all is that the participation in the medium is not fundamentally tied to e-commerce, Facebook ads and following the Texans on a Sunday. It has opened up a whole new world of how we interact with each other and how we solve a crisis and save lives.

Before I close I just had one small side note to point out. Joel Osteen, motivational speaker acquiesced and opened the doors of the old Summit, now Mega Church,  to house displaced Houstonians. This would not have been possible in out the constant barrage of social media pressure. Osteen has been ravaged all over social media. While community leaders like Jim Mattress Mac McInvale and JJ Watt solutions, Osteen remained silent. But in a testimony to the power of social media  Twitter for helped Jole Osteen learn the ways of the Jesus.

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