How Twitter Assisted in Emergency Communication during Nashville’s Flood

By: Lynn Williams & Mollie Melbourne

Here is a great example of how social media played a critical role in a recent disaster. Many thanks to Lynn Williams, a Regional Field Representative with NACHC, for sharing her story and giving us the chance to learn from this devastating flood.

Here is Lynn’s Account: Sunday morning, May 2, I knew conditions were bad from the minute I woke up. Relentless rain had fallen since the night before. Since I assumed the Nashville Tennessean (local paper) could not be delivered, I turned to Twitter for news.

People I followed were sending out alarms and questions in bursts of tweets. A local television news reporter, Christine Maddela @christnemaddela, tweeted real-time updates before a crew could get video to air.   Christine busted rumors  and calmed the public with source material and sent out retweets showing personal accounts of rising waters to her network of followers.
I read a tweet announcing River Plantation’s evacuation. My husband’s mother lost her condo in that community – a quarter-mile from the Harpeth River. I alerted my husband who, like many others that day, began searching for a displaced loved one. All day tweets circulated naming people who were lost, which roads and routes were closed, and what services were on their way. Twitter connected people.
Suddenly agencies and services made Twitter work for them. Hands-On Nashville @HONashville, the official volunteer coordination agency for the city, tweeted areas of need and how best to help. Local church congregations tweeted coordinated relief response. Directions to safe haven, food and clothing were circulated on Twitter. Aid and recovery was organized using 140 characters or less.
A woman delivered a baby with the aid of Twitter outreach. The city’s water shortage was bolstered in part with help from Twitter users who chanted an appeal to conserve. After the storm, reports of people and businesses caught washing cars and irrigated lawns were substantiated on Twitter. Soon our city’s water reserves rose.
Through it all there were messages of encouragement, grief, hope and prayer amidst a flow of news and information. Twitter supported a community that was in distress.
I’ve heard it said that Twitter is the new CNN, and in Tennessee that likeness was true. Disaster preparedness, response and recovery were communicated in grassroots fashion here, and now blogs, Facebook updates and photo albums are taking the story to the world.
Photos used by permission courtesy of Ashley Guthrie