This week I thought back on how Alabama and many other states were affected by the tornado outbreak in April 2011. The amount of damage and loss of life was more than most people could have imagined. With the storms that moved through that morning, many people found themselves without power and without traditional forms of communication. And after the tornadoes rolled through major metropolitan areas later that day, communication was almost impossible when we needed it the most.
In the past, organizations were confident that emergency plans that included emails, home numbers of employees and cell numbers of key management was enough to make it through any disaster. The problem I found was without power, there was no way to receive those emails or phone calls. Cell signal was spotty at best. Even government agencies found themselves without communication due to a lack of power and communication towers that were damaged during the tornadoes. One thing that did work was social media and text messages. I kept in touch with family and friends using social media and text messages, because even with a cell phone, calls were almost impossible to make in most areas.
Over the coming days, I was able to communicate with employees and the public about locations that had been damaged or were without power and what kind of operating hours could be expected. I was also able to communicate where mobile alternatives would be located so customers could still conduct business. I think it’s safe to say that social media should be thought of as a real form of communication instead of just a marketing tool. Every business should have backup plans for communication and understand that in the event of real disasters, those backup plans need backup plans. The cell phone signal might have been spotty, but it was just enough to be able to send social media messages and text messages.
To this day, I hear conversations about how many people communicated through social media to let friends and family know their condition and others coordinated support efforts through social media. A popular hashtag was established for people in Alabama who wanted to donate goods and those who needed those goods. James Spann of ABC 33/40 spent countless hours tweeting and re-tweeting with the hashtags #AlabamaNeeds and #WeAreAlabama. Over the weeks and months, hashtags like these were valuable tools helping people who needed the food, water and supplies and also helping those who wanted to donate to the tornado victims.
Emergency plans are very important for families and businesses. Knowing how to communicate during an emergency effectively is equally important. It’s a great idea to include social media in your emergency plan. Be sure to include Facebook profiles and Twitter handles for key employees. Be sure that these employees are able to receive text messages as well. These may be the only options available when the next disaster strikes.