Phone lines at the command center where teams are directing clean-up of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are often jammed, but media-savvy fishermen, residents and others can find the latest updates on Twitter and Facebook.
News that the massive containment dome to be placed over one of the leaks had arrived above the leak off the Louisiana shore appeared first on the popular social media sites. So did word that controlled burns of the oil slick would go ahead on Wednesday after a week of bad weather.
"In a crisis situation, social media is the fastest and most effective way to reach consumers besides television," Lauren Hurvitz, a New York-based media consultant who worked in crisis public relations, said on Thursday. "It's much more cost effective and direct."
Oil company BP Plc is also able to control the message without it being filtered by radio, television and newspaper reporters, Hurvitz said.
A Facebook page launched by the joint U.S. and BP spill response team, located here has over 11,000 followers.
They have access to photos, spill-trajectory maps generated by the government, video on topics including the controlled burns by BP, and summaries of daily news briefings.
BP America's Twitter site, found at, twitter.com/BP_America, has over 2,500 followers.
"We want to ensure that we can get out information about the response to this incident and spill as rapidly and widely as possible," David Nicholas, a BP spokesman wrote in an email.
"Twitter is a clearly popular medium that can complement other, more traditional, communication efforts."
U.S. responders are also posting video on YouTube and are running photograph slideshows Flickr, according to their main web site, here
BP's critics are also active on Facebook. One site "Make BP responsible for the Gulf Coast oil spill," has 867 followers. Another, "Speak out on the Gulf oil spill," has 227.
BP isn't the only notable party to use social media to comment on the spill. Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has used it to weigh in on the accident.
"Gulf: learn from Alaska's lesson w/foreign oil co's: don't naively trust- VERIFY," Palin said this week, referring to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Still, Hurvitz said that corporate messages sent via social media outlets do not reach those who do not have computers or are not familiar with the medium.
The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20 after a well ruptured. The explosion killed 11 workers, and the well is gushing out of control, spewing crude oil in a massive slick that threatens the coastlines of four states.
Fishermen have been banned from working in the waters affected by the spill, which could also damage wildlife and hurt tourism in popular beach resorts.