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.
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.)