State Officials, TV News Provide Storm Info Via Twitter

Renee Preslar of ADEM provided updates throughout the night

Renee Preslar of ADEM provided updates throughout the night

It’s a very small part to a still unfolding story weather tragedy in western Arkansas, but it bears noting for media-watchers how Arkansas news providers — and more importantly, state emergency management officials — used Twitter during last night’s storms.

In one of our Arkansas Twittersphere updates a few weeks ago, we noted that the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management had signed on to the microblogging service, and we wondered to what extent the service might be used in real emergency.

Last night we found out. ADEM began early in the evening urging followers to review tornado response procedures. But as the storm approached, it advised people in Mena, which at this hour seems to be the hardest hit, to take cover. And after the tornado rolled through, it shared information on emergency shelters, the number of injured and, later, the number of fatalities.

There were other updates in between. Ozarks Red Cross also shared information during the storms. And ADEM communications manager Renee Preslar, in between hits on local newscasts, also provided updates via her personal Twitter account. Preslar shared info on areas affected by power outages, damages and communicated with members of the media via Twitter.

And speaking of media, many of them used Twitter to complement their on-air reports and share information even before it made it to air. Official station Twitter accounts, as well as individual reporters and weather anchors, used Twitter to broadcast bits of info, 140 characters at a time, to those who might have been following the storms via their iPhones, cell phones, computer desktops — wherever.

While it’s seen a surge in nationwide popularity — with hundreds of new adopters in Arkansas recently — Twitter has yet to reach “mass media” status. So how important was it that emergency management and media were so active on the microblogging platform last night?

Thinking it over, after the jump.

Arkansas Department of Emergency Management's Twitter page

Arkansas Department of Emergency Management's Twitter page

It’s doubtful that many people actually depended on Twitter as their only source for weather and news updates last night. But with media and emergency management using the service as another way to share information, it might have been apparent to some they maybe they could.

And Twitter also showed it could be another good way for media and government to quickly share information among themselves, thereby making it easier for media to share information across traditional channels — in this case, TV.

The latter might be the real value of Twitter: Allowing for a faster, always updated flow of information from official sources to media, who then share that information more quickly with their audiences.

And on a night like last night, quick, accurate information is crucial, possibly life-saving.

(Updated: Some good comments below on the use of Twitter in emergency situations. Check ’em out, and share your thoughts as well.)

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10 Responses

  1. I live in Lonoke county. Our power was knocked out about 4 hours last night. I used Twitter as well as internet access via Blackberry to keep up with what was going on in the weather.

  2. I’m in Virginia for a work trip but having RELIABLE access to what was happening at home was huge for my piece of mind. More important though it means a back-up. The vision of the first internet was to have a communications means that could survive disaster. This is a perfect example of multiple delivery method and unlike traditional media, it is not one-way communication. A person with a cell phone can now easily alert the government of the need faster than official reporting.

  3. Any available, reliable channel through which to disseminate important public information is useful, even if some people choose to view it as a novelty. Social networking tools like Twitter & Facebook are easy to lampoon, and yet we have seen they have real usefulness.

    To me, one of the most attractive things about Twitter is its sheer mobility. You don’t have to sit in front of a TV, radio, or even computer to get info through Twitter — it can come directly to (and be exchanged from) the ubiquitous portable communication device nearly everyone has (cell, smartphone, etc.). So, people can move to safety and take information updates with them, instead of sitting in the dark and waiting for someone to come give an update.

    Of course, all forms of electronic communication depend on the network transmitting the info. So nothing is fullproof. But it’s still a good thing having Twitter in the communications bag o’ tricks

  4. Howdy, I am one of the volunteers who updates the Twitter Feed for the Greater Ozarks Chapter of the Red Cross (serving SW MO). The comment about “good way for media and government to quickly share information among themselves…” makes an important point. I have found that greatest unanticipated reward of using Twitter is easier communication among Red Crossers. I imagine other organizations may find similar results.

    • Thanks Perry.

      Internal communication is very important in emergencies, as of course you know. I’m not sure most people have really considered Twitter for that purpose.

      Good luck today. Our thoughts are with you, your volunteers and the victims of this storm.

  5. […] It: Lance Turner notes the use of Twitter yesterday to provide updates regarding the tornado. He ponders, “While it’s seen a surge in […]

  6. During a widespread emergency situation, various ways to communicate to our residents, guests and other governmental agencies or jurisdictions is critical.

    Utilizing multiple, technological techniques while providing appropriate safeguards, is not only wise, but should be considered a mandate for saving lives and/or property in that order.

    Stay safe

  7. […] Posts State Officials, TV News Provide Storm Info Via TwitterArkansas Twitter GuideThe 87th General Assembly: The Most Watched Arkansas Legislature Ever?William […]

  8. […] has legitimate uses for work, nonprofits, marketing, customer service, internal communications, emergency communications and more. But are Twitter noobs — the disciples of Oprah and Ashton — […]

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