22 Aug 2014
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Patch Instagram photo by katemoranband

Tech Connects Us in the Midst of the Storm

While we prepared, rode through and assessed the damage, technology informed us, entertained us and connected us to friends and family.

Tech Connects Us in the Midst of the Storm

The oft-repeated advice in news reports, conversations with family and on-line in the lead up to the storm was to charge your cell phones.

The new twist this year was the addition of instructions on how to use Twitter via text messaging (SMS). The Wall Street Journal included it in a list of storm-related apps and advice.

Twitter shared its own list of who to follow for emergency updates (as did Patch in Northern Virginia).

For complete Hurricane Sandy coverage from Patch, click on the news tab above and then click on the Hurricane Sandy section. 

The American Red Cross encourages us to post that we are Safe and Well in areas that may be cut off from reliable information in situations when disasters lead to mass displacements of people.

Due to Facebook being more about relationships, pre-storm postings were a mix of both useful information and more light-hearted stress venting. People confessed to the stock piling of wine and consuming of Halloween candy. You heard from your friends with toddlers wondering how they were going to cope with cabin fever and lots of woo-hoos when workplaces or schools were closed.

Tech allowed for journalists to do their jobs when traveling was difficult. Your Patch editors — armed with email, scanners, mobile devices and help from readers — were able to share news from local emergency responders and from street level reports. Armed with a fully charged laptop and a smartphone, journalists can work when power goes out (for a few hours at least).

While local television stations had the daunting task of covering news happening over two states and the district, your local Patch team could focus on what was happening much more locally, especially with the help of the Patch site next door.

One of the Facebook groups I am a member of is a group of neighbors who shared information about trash and mail delivery, updates about fallen trees and the general fears and frustrations of facing a storm.

During the storm, dramatic photos were sent around via social media and like real-life social interaction some popular images turned out to be fake or old (such as a dramatic image of a wave-smacked Statue of Liberty and a photo of soldiers standing at the Tomb of the Unknowns) and some "news" turned out to be rumor (boil water order for Loudoun County). Social media also had its own fact-checkers at least, shaming users for sharing false information.

Most importantly, social media reminded us that we are a community. A community of experts, heroes, people in need and of smiling faces. We helped each other find stores with water and batteries, shared silly photos, gave each other comfort, and offered resources for more information.

Of course, tech can't prevent a disaster from happening, but it can help us prepare and to cope with the difficulties during and after by connecting us to our community. With web-connected smartphones, that can be recharged with the help of our car chargers, we can at least keep a lifeline open to our online support networks. We can connect long enough to check the latest news, share ideas for low-tech games to play when the power goes out or sharing grilling recipes for rapidly thawing groceries.

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