A Real World Crisis Crowd™: How 3 people with 2 iPhones set a social media communications standard

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A Real World Crisis Crowd™


How 3 people with 2 iPhones set a social media communications standard

 Last week, I came across an interesting item on the Meta Leadership Community website posted by site manager Mark Lupo, CBCP.

Mark is passionate about disaster response, and has been discussing the importance of integrating social media into organizational and community disaster response efforts.  To illustrate his point, he referenced a blog from Rebecca and Genevieve Williams, the founders of the Joplin Tornado Info Facebook page.

Blog author Rebecca Williams joined the discussion and shared her recent co-authored white paper The Use of Social Media for Disaster Recovery Lessons learned while creating and managing “Joplin Tornado Info” (2011) on Facebook and further implemented with “Branson Tornado Info” (2012), by Rebecca and Genevieve Williams and David Burton, MU Extension.

I found the paper a superior resource and encourage you to Download it Here.

I also had some questions for Rebecca, and she has graciously and enthusiastically contributed to this post:

JOPLIN TORNADO INFO was created less than two hours after an EF-5 tornado hit Joplin on May 22, 2011. Originally created as a Facebook page, the group quickly began utilizing other social networks and new technologies to aid in the relief effort. JTI and its affiliates are staffed entirely by volunteers and accept no donations. In the process of managing these sites, they agreed that the guidelines used with JTI needed to be written down and shared with others.

Question: It was only 2 hours from the point of conception to creation; how many people did you have at the start (5?), and how quickly did you realize more hands were needed? Did you have a strategy for finding volunteers quickly, or was it more “who do we know who can help?”

 Answer:  Joplin Tornado Info (JTI) was started using an iPhone by my daughter, Genevieve Williams. We live 16 miles south of Joplin and the tornado took out our wifi, so the page was built on an Iphone.

If I correctly recall 3G was also down so we were at quite a disadvantage. We ran the page with two Iphones for the first few hours until we had time to regroup and get my daughters mifi.

For the first six hours or so, Genevieve and I were the only administrators. We relied on JTI community members from the beginning; a group of people went to the computer lab at Crowder College in Neosho and posted every single thing they found to our page, we then re-posted.

We watched our community feed closely and posted emergent needs reported by those at ground zero. Jennifer Meyers Graham called from Alabama and she helped us through that first night and for several days after.

Within the first 48 hours we tapped Latonia Bailey Crowder College journalism instructor to help (she had been posting on her own). We also had former Joplin news anchor/weatherman Brian Dorman as an admin posting weather updates from Indiana.  

After the tornado hit, Joplin received 14 inches of torrential rain and there were several bad storms with tornado watches and warnings in the days just after. People were living in tents and in damaged homes and the electricity was off for large parts of Joplin for about ten days.

We were proud that people could get weather updates via our page. We were told by JTI community members that they watched our news feed and texted critical info to people at ground zero.

About 36 hours in we reached out for volunteer admins from the JTI community. We tapped 4 additional official admins, and also asked some JTI community members to please scour the internet for specific needs such as caring for all of the tornado displaced animals.

We kept a close eye on community posts, re-posting when warranted and answering each and every question.

I would recommend having admins for a disaster recovery page set up well in advance. With JTI we, as I like to say, “invented the wheel while the vehicle was in motion”. We added admins from the electric, water and gas companies within 24hours. We had admins from several agencies, including David Burton- University of Missouri Extension with whom we just released our field guide. “The Use of Social Media for Disaster Recovery”.  

As needs were met, admins were removed. JTI now has 3 admins, Genevieve Williams the creator and managing admin, Joel Clark-www.joplintornado.info webmaster, and myself. We set up a gmail account [email protected] and used a Google phone number as our JTI number.

Question:  Based upon your experience, are there designated roles now? For example, one person is in charge of contacting and connecting suppliers and supplies, one for volunteers, etc.

Answer: We designated roles based on the capabilities of our admins and what was happening at the time. The first hours and days went by so fast and everything was emergent.

Rescue efforts continued for days and so many people were displaced and we had torrential rain after the tornado. We all acted pretty much independently.

JTI command central was my coffee table. Most of our admins have not met. Supplies, particularly clothing came in to Joplin faster than the major organizations could arrange logistics.

JTI through community member Royce Cantrell arranged overflow storage at the Galena, Kansas football field (seven miles west of Joplin). Royce routed donations in and out of the Galena location. Storing items until the “big guys” had room. He ran the overflow location for several months. All of this was volunteer and full time for several of us.

Many people of this area gave up their livelihoods for a time because of the magnitude of the disaster. It would be best to have designated roles and tasks but to be honest we just weren’t that organized.

By coincidence a friend, Joel Clark had started a website joplintornado.info. We found each other and linked the JTI Facebook page and the website within 24 hours. Yes, there are designated roles now; Joel manages the website, and contributes to JTI. I primarily handle posts and actively manage the page. Genevieve is the Project creator and manager.

Question: Were you ever the victims of spam on your timelines, and how did you identify and handle?

Answer: We started the page with a heavy profanity and spam blocker. We did have some spam and a few problems….that is why the page must be administered 24/7 for the first few weeks.

Our community also “bird dogged” the page and let us know if anything wasn’t right…for instance someone posted an I “heart” tornadoes logo during our logo contest.  Our community caught it before we did, but we had it down and the user blocked within 15 minutes of its posting. I blocked users and reported spam. We chose to block businesses offering 50 cents per like to be donated to relief efforts, 10% off specials for tornado victims etc. It clogged the fast moving newsfeed and served little purpose at the time.

Question: Was identifying scams against victims a part of the information you provided? 

Answer: Yes, anything we felt was the least bit “hinky” we deleted or hid from the feed. We refer people to the Missouri Attorney General’s office-Joplin location if they have concerns, and when scams are exposed via traditional media we always repost. Our page policy is not to post rumors or hearsay.

Question: Do you now integrate with G+, Twitter, others?

Answer: Our Twitter account is @joplinmotornado. Twitter is not as popular in our region as Facebook and we didn’t utilize it to the extent that we did Facebook, although our Facebook posts were frequently re-tweeted.

We utilized Twitter through crowdmap using #moneeds and #Joplin hashtags. We used those hashtags to track needs and supplies. Our Twitter account was created May 23rd. We started using Tumblr for our longer posts both on Facebook and Twitter.  We adopted Google+ the day it became publicly available to businesses but it has mostly been a novelty up to this point. Genevieve is the one with the social media and internet savvy. I stick to Facebook. 

Question: What is the contingency plan if key members lose connectivity/power?

Answer: We functioned pretty well with Iphones and no 3G. We also had a volunteer admin monitoring the page in Western Kansas, two in Alabama, and several outside the region – so barring nationwide power outages – the page could function without key members. 

Question: How active were First Responders on your page?

Answer: Initially, first responders were much too busy responding to use our page. I think our page was more useful for “second responders;” people of the area who rushed in to help. 

Firestorm: When we first became aware of the Joplin Tornado Information Facebook Page, we at Firestorm were impressed with the effort.  As the crisis evolved, we were doubly impressed with the clarity of information and service to the page’s community members.

The Social Media Disaster Communication lessons learned from the JTI experience are many, and we are proud to support the people who came together in this experience.

Rebecca and Genevieve Williams of Neosho, Mo, and David Burton, documented their experience in a comprehensive white paper, one we are pleased to be allowed to share.

Rebecca’s hope is that it is redistributed globally, so that others may learn from their experience.  Do you have a question or comment for Rebecca?  Please use our comments section.


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