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Three Ways Digital, Social Media Help to Save Lives in Extreme Weather

By Staff Writers Kristen Rodman and Samantha-Rae Tuthill

As the usage and accessibility of social media grows constantly, severe weather preparation, emergency response and disaster relief efforts are undergoing major renovations, catapulted by digital media.

With every passing year, technology supersedes itself, advancing day in, day out. Each year, severe weather threatens millions across the globe as snowstorms, typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes and more induce devastation, destruction and loss of life.

Receiving Alerts and Preparation Information Before a Storm

Once alerts were only able to be distributed by newspapers and radio broadcasts, but social media is now changing the way citizens send and receive potentially life-saving weather alerts.

While some weather events display tell-tale signs before their arrival, others come quietly. Today, the world can have the latest weather weather information at their fingertips if they simply utilize their smartphone.

Cell phone providers allow the National Weather Service and other private weather companies, such as AccuWeather, to send imminent weather alerts, including watches and warnings, to patrons who are located in an area at risk.

"It functions as not only an encyclopedia of weather data, but it also automatically alerts you to the most impactful weather," AccuWeather Mobile Applications Product Manager Brandon Marsh said. "The AccuWeather app helps people make actionable decisions."

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Other applications enable users to access key emergency weather preparedness tips and advice geared towards specific weather phenomena.

The American Red Cross provides a plethora of free apps that give real-time information and updates on life-threatening weather situations, including hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and wildfires. They give step-by-step instructions on what to do before, during and after the threat passes as well as signal a high-pitched siren accompanied by a message when severe weather is approaching.

The added benefit of these smart phone apps is that these apps can be accessed even if the home loses power as long as a car charger is available.

Social media can also aid in the dissemination of essential weather information as state transportation, police and emergency management offices release timely updates on traffic patterns, accidents, road and school closings, damage reports and more on their specific Twitter feeds.

Receiving and Providing Assistance

A decade after the birth of Facebook in 2004, the online social networking service can be used today to connect people with their loved ones in times of disaster.

When a storm hits, people are able to reach their loved ones on a large scale by posting a status, tweet or update to say where they are and if they are all right.

People also use these sites to reach out to the public and offer assistance or to seek out help themselves.

Following the ice storm that hit Atlanta in 2014, online groups were created to help provide people with places to stay and access to food and water if they were stranded on the closed highways.

Other programs, such as Adopt a Hydrant, allow people to volunteer their time to help their cities in a storm's aftermath. With this app, people can "adopt" a fire hydrant buried by the snow in their city, digging it out of the snowbanks so that they will be available for emergency personnel in the event of a fire.

Recovering Items, Reuniting With Pets

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) utilized social media in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 by promoting #SandyPets as a social media hashtag.

By tracking the hashtag, HSUS volunteers were able to help spread important pet safety information ahead of the storm. After Sandy hit, they used the hashtag to share information on shelters and animals recovered to help owners locate the pets they had been separated from.

Social media has also helped people recover lost items in the aftermath of a storm. Following the 2011 Joplin tornado, for example, several Facebook pages were created, allowing people to post items they had found in the devastating storm aftermath, so that they may returned to their original owners.

Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Kristen Rodman at, or Samantha-Rae Tuthill at You can also follow them on Twitter @Accu_Kristen and @Accu_Sam. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.