It had been raining for several days in the Atlanta area, already a strange occurrence. But when the skies opened up in overnight hours of Sept. 20-21, 2009, it set off quite a bit of havoc in roadways and residential areas. And it set off memorable efforts by citizen journalists, including myself.
I was awakened by the heavy rain overnight, so I was mentally prepared when I turned on TV early Monday. Already, reports were dire. Traffic backups on freeways. Boil water advisories. School closings. Swift water rescues. My instinct: Tweet.
Of course, that means Twitter, which everyone knows about. This shows the microblogging service is not just a tool for small businesses and social organizers. It has arrived as a disaster coverage/recovery tool.
From 6 AM on, I was tweeting to some degree. TV and online reports from Atlanta-area media were helpful. (Hey, they’ve got a place in the world, too.) But I came to realize that many colleagues/friends/neighbors might not be aware of all developments as they headed to work, or to get kids off to school. So why not do what I could to help them out? I had the luxury of not having to rush out, so I could stay by TV and the Web to tweet the latest updates.
I wasn’t the only one. Fellow Atlanta social media maven Grayson Daughters (@spaceyg on Twitter) was in step. She lives in intown Atlanta, and I’m in the suburbs outside I-285, so we both could offer updates of importance to our specific locations. Another who stepped in well was strategic marketer Tessa Horehled at @driveafastercar.
(Updated 9/24/09: Daughters and Horehled discuss Twitter efforts during the flood, and the #atlflood hashtag and search features, in this video.)
Examples of how useful such tweets can be. Several of my followers learned from my tweets (and resulting re-tweets, or RTs) that Spaghetti Junction, the massive I-285/I-85 intersection in northeast Atlanta, was gridlocked due to standing water and accidents. Proof that many people these days check tweets before TV or radio.
Also, I tweeted immediately when Gwinnett County schools decided in the morning to close for the day; they already had delayed opening for 90 minutes. But that came too late for at least one parent, who tweeted that she was already at a bus stop with her child when that word came.
As I mentioned, I relied heavily on TV and Internet reports from Atlanta MSM for my tweets. But my bulletins were on Twitter a long time before some of their own. For example, Fox5’s Tacoma Newsome had an outstanding TV report of a swift water rescue of several police officers and a resident from a Gwinnett County home. It was awhile before other Atlanta outlets got their tweets out on that, which tells me they need to shape up there.
Hey, I’m used to covering natural disasters. At the California-based Orange County Register, I dealt with major earthquakes in ’92 and ’94, and the days-long Laguna Beach fires in ’93. I know how situations can change dramatically in minutes.
And another point: Atlanta TV stations WSB, WXIA and CBSAtlanta routinely cut away to network morning shows at 7 AM, when the calamity was really heating up. Mistake. Fox5 stayed with normal programming. (Not sure if Fox has a network morning show, but still …). So they gained a lot of viewers and tweets as a result.
And I congratulate WSB, Atlanta’s dominant station, for staying with local news programming Tuesday rather than deferring to “Good Morning America.” CBSAtlanta stayed local. WXIA switched to NBC’s “Today.”
And hey, when you tweet anything, especially a disaster, the world is watching. A UGA colleague of mine with Atlanta ties, who now lives in North Carolina, learned of the mess from my tweets and the #atlflood hashtag. She gave an excellent account of Twitter’s impact in her blog post.
And here’s my account of how some homeowners were affected by flooding, reported for Atlanta Real Estate Forum.
Early Wednesday, damage estimate was at $250 million. (Hurricane Katrina? Over $90 billion.)
So for now, enough about my own Tweet Central. The flood mess in Atlanta is not over. Just know that Twitter matters.