Turning to Twitter for the latest news during a disaster

While the news media’s wall-to-wall coverage during Hurricane Irene in late August drew criticism, the one place with truly up-to-the-minute coverage during the disaster was the social networking platform Twitter. 

During the storm, I had several family members and friends in the hurricane’s path. After falling victim to the sometimes sensationalized TV coverage, I found myself unable to find out what was going on in the areas where people I know lived. 

After unsuccessfully tuning in and realizing there’s only so many hours of watching people get blown around by winds on the beach any sane person can take, I found myself logging on to Twitter for the latest news. 

Twitter’s been called the fastest way to share information, and it lived up to its billing during Irene. By following comments from people in the eye of the storm to those still waiting for its arrival, one could not only track its path up the East Coast but also get a truly up-to-the-minute appraisal of the situation from individuals who were there. 

Throughout that weekend, people used the tool to post warnings, updates, local road closings, power outages and even hurricane party information. The term "category 1" was one of the top trending topics Saturday afternoon with Twitter sharing more than 3,000 tweets per minute. In fact, seven of its top 10 trending topics were Hurricane-related posts!

As the storm surged into North Carolina (where my grandmother lives) and into Virginia (where my best friend lives), Tweets shared that hundreds of thousands had lost power. Thanks to Twitter, I knew not to count on landline phones when contacting my friends and family. 

As addictive as following the storm on TV might have been, the personal insight gained following Irene online was even more acute. After observing the speed at which Twitter shared the news and the backlash against the mainstream media, you have to wonder if we could see the beginnings of a whole new style of disaster journalism. Thoughts? Post them below!