Brad Pitt may save your life? Sure he will. And Angelina will help him. So will Puff Daddy and any one of the Kardashians, or Brittany, or Simon, or Ashton, or Paris, or?
Alright, so I’m kidding. They won’t really save your life unless they happen upon a car crash that you’ve just been involved in—and probably not even then—but they’re all using a tool that you very likely have in your pocket or purse. Your tool however, is likely not ready to save your life or the life of any of your family members, or neighbors, or co-workers, or even a wayward celebrity.
What’s the tool and why did I mention the celebrities above? And why did I give Brad Pitt the opportunity to save your life? Read on.
Who doesn’t have a smartphone today? By and large, most of us do. Make sure yours has apps that are relevant to potential disasters so that your phone can help save your life.
Every spring one of my most enjoyable duties is visiting clients and presenting what ImpactWeather calls the Employee Hurricane Preparedness Presentation (EHPP). The EHPP brings general preparedness information to employees who may be new to the Gulf Coast and the unavoidable hurricane risk here. Preparedness doesn’t really change from year to year, but the technology changes and we can bring new technology to preparedness. Your smartphone should be considered required equipment for your emergency kit. Don’t leave it in your kit with your other stock—keep it with you!—but make sure it’s up-to-date with the latest emergency and preparedness apps before you find yourself in the midst of an evacuation zone wondering what do to. Just like rotating your stock of emergency water (one gallon, per person, per day), you should make sure the emergency apps on your phone are still valid and you should spend an hour or two searching for new apps that may bring new information and techniques to your fingertips.
Before you check to see if your emergency apps are still valid, you need to load the emergency apps onto your phone. Search for apps using keywords “emergency” or “disaster,” or “preparendess.” Be sure to download the FEMA app. The Red Cross has a great app, too. In fact, where some apps rely on connectivity to function, the Red Cross app downloads many features directly to your phone’s memory so that they can function independent of any type of cell or Wi-Fi connection. Some apps can help you locate family members in a disaster zone (Life 360 Family Locator). Some apps, like the Red Cross app, can help you treat burns or broken limbs. The FEMA app can help you build an emergency kit and point you to the nearest Disaster Recovery Center among other services.
There’s another app you should have on your phone, and this is where your favorite celebrities come in. The app you need, the app that may save your life, and the app that is on every phone of every celebrity, is Twitter. Yes, Twitter. If you’re over 45 or 50, I’ll wait until you can say Twitter without chuckling. Go ahead. When I did my last EHPP and asked who in the audience had a Twitter account, not a single person raised their hand. To me, this was remarkable and the reason I’m writing this article.
Yes, Twitter may save your life. At the least, Twitter can make your life a whole lot easier if you use it in the days leading up to, and the days following a disaster like a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, wildfire or even pandemic. But before it can do that, you have to understand what it is, what it does and how it applies to you.
At its base, Twitter is a web-based social networking and microblogging service that allows registered users to send and receive text messages up to 140 characters in length. You can access Twitter from your desktop computer, your tablet or your phone. From your desktop computer you’d go to Twitter.com and use it like any other web site; from your phone or tablet, download the appropriate Twitter app. Using only 140 characters is the “micro” part, but perhaps you’re put off by the social networking aspect of Twitter? That’s OK—I am, too. I have no need to know what Paris Hilton (am I dating myself?) had for breakfast or who the latest husband of Ms. Hollywood is. However, what’s great about Twitter is the non-social aspect of so many users that you need “follow.” Users like your local city and county emergency offices, for example. I doubt there’s a single county OEM in this country that’s not tweeting on a regular basis.
Twitter is made up of tweeters and followers. If you are a registered user you can tweet (send) a 140-character text and it will be received by your followers. To become a follower, create your Twitter account and search for your local county OEM using the Twitter search tool. For me, in Galveston County, I would find @galvcountyoem. I’d click on it and be taken to the Galveston County OEM Twitter page. I’d then select, “Follow.” The good folks at the Galveston County Office of Emergency Management regularly tweet pertinent information to their followers. Their tweets consist of special weather statements, Amber Alerts, announcements relating to OEM business and much more. The most recent tweet is at the top of the page and, if you like, you can scroll and scroll and scroll to find tweet after tweet after tweet. Unlike email, the tweets don’t pile up and you don’t need to delete them; there’s no Inbox and there’s no spam. You just log in, see what’s new or interesting, then go about your business. When you return the next time, the newest information is again at the top. Once you’re following your emergency officials of choice, the most important disaster-related information is there for the viewing when it’s convenient to you. And that’s why you need it.
When landline phone service is not available and cell service is disrupted, a text message can often be successfully sent and received.
You need Twitter because in an emergency you may not have radio or TV. If you have radio or TV, you may not have time to wait for the specific information you need. How many counties does your local TV station serve? With Twitter you go directly to the source of the information you need without having to wait for the TV news anchor to tell you, without having to dial a phone number, without having to drive anywhere and without having to stand in line. If your family members follow you, you can tweet once and they will all receive it. In a disaster when every second counts, Twitter has just come to your rescue. By the way, in the age of Twitter your TV news people are likely using Twitter to monitor the various OEM sources as well, and are becoming “middlemen” to the information you require—the same information you can pull directly from the source with your own Twitter app.
There’s more to Twitter and it’s called the hashtag. What was, according to Twitter founders, almost dismissed and at one time considered nothing much more than an afterthought to the main program, Twitter engineers renamed the lowly pound symbol “hashtag” and empowered it with the ability to organize and group metadata so that you can search for, and be included in, groups of messages pertaining to a particular subject (origin). If, for example, Galveston County tweets a message about evacuation and includes a hashtag of their choosing such as #galvestonevacuation, you can search on #galvestonevacuation and any message using that hashtag will be displayed. You can also tweet your own message and if you include the same hashtag, anybody else who searches #galvestonevacuation will see your message in addition to all the others utilizing the same hashtag. You can see immediate communications from the source, and they can see yours.
Why not dial 911? In many post-disaster zones, landline phone service is disrupted and cell service is down—it’s possible 911 is not available. Text messages can often get through when cell calls are dropped or otherwise unable to connect (read more on this subject here). Text messages can also be quicker to write (no waiting for an overwhelmed dispatcher or family member to answer the phone), allowing you to move on to other, potentially life-saving tasks more quickly. Text messages can also be delivered when your phone is out of range or turned off. There are advantages to texting.
The same advantages apply to Twitter, but with the ability to follow your chosen emergency sources in near-real time, the ability to use hashtags to search for and be included within specific information, the ability to tweet directly with many people at once makes Twitter a must-have for any smartphone user in an emergency or disaster situation. Let’s not forget, it’s free.
Joking about the vanity of celebrities and their willingness to tweet anything is one thing, but let’s not dismiss Twitter because of its perceived value as little more than a frivolous tool of the rich and famous. Brad Pitt may not directly save your life, but if he is one of the thousands of individuals alerting you of severe weather or tropical threats via his Twitter account, he may be the super hero we’ve all come to enjoy on the big screen.