As the cleanup begins for Hurricane Sandy along the East Coast, the stories of the storm are beginning to emerge. One of the dominating themes is the role of social media. A storm in its own right, the social media attention that the hurricane garnered was the second most talked about event on Facebook this year, ahead of the presidential debates and only trailing the Super Bowl. But social media was not just for commentary; social media was used not only as a vital means of communication, but as a lifeline during the storm as well.

NYFD takes to Twitter

Take the Emily Rahimi, the manager of the New York Fire Department’s Twitter account. When Sandy made landfall on Monday, many New Yorkers found themselves stranded and in danger of rising flood waters. Not surprisingly, the 911 dispatch lines were themselves flooded with calls. Consequently, many of Rahimi’s 53,000 followers turned to Twitter. “You could see the panic and fear in the words they were typing,” Rahimi said to CNN. As a result, Rahimi used Twitter not only to relay these frantic messages to the dispatchers while calming the panicked Tweeters, but also to give timely updates about floods and fires. Effectively harnessing the power of Twitter while acting as a one-woman response team, Rahimi emerged as a hero of the safety efforts during hurricane Sandy.

Red Cross too

And, during the rescue and recovery, social media continues to be a critical mode of communication for organizations. Beyond police and fire departments (whose social media use was nothing less than successful), Twitter has provided a critical avenue for organizations like the Red Cross to organize relief and recovery efforts. For instance, the Red Cross is currently using Facebook and Twitter to share information about where shelters and food trucks are as well as determine where they should send help to. Representing the powerful reach of social media as a large conversation, the usefulness of social media cannot be overlooked. So, while the recovery from hurricane Sandy is just beginning, social media’s role as a crucial tool in disaster response has been cemented.