I wasn’t planning on writing a blog post on the Irene/Lee flooding, but I came across a TED Talk that sounded so familiar, I couldn’t help but to comment on it (embedded below for your viewing pleasure). BTW, TED Talks = New Addiction.
I was fortunate enough to not experience any of the aftermath of the Irene/Lee flooding. As you know from the previous post, I did have a 5 day long power outage after Irene, but I did not have to worry about flooding. I have no idea what going through a flood must be like, so I really have no place commenting on it. It looks completely terrible. I can’t imagine losing worldly possessions in such a disaster. I can’t imagine the damage, the smell, the cost, and the heartbreak. All I know is throwing away 100 dollars in groceries and flushing toilets with water taken from a pipe along State Rte 29.
Just because I didn’t experience the disaster first hand did not mean I didn’t care. I wanted to help. I just didn’t know how.
One thing became obvious, people needed information about how to give and receive help. Suddenly, an idea sparked with Karla Porter. Why not setup a Facebook page to get information out there quickly? And so the Wyoming Valley Flood 2011 Facebook page was born. Harold, Karla, Jason Percival and I were all established as moderators on the page. We soon grew to over 6500 likes. People were sharing photos, information, asking for help and offering help at the rate of speed we could barely keep up with. Both local news TV stations were overwhelmed and spread too thinly, so we figured this might be an additional way to help spread information. It was a great resource for people for the most part. However, we did run into issues with the rumor mill running rampant. One particular instance I can think of was whether or not JJ Banko’s in West Nanticoke washed away. There was a county rumor control hotline established to confirm or deny rumors, however, we quickly found out that they were getting their information from TV/Facebook and in some instances they were helping to spread misinformation.
Harold recounted the phone conversation recently on my Facebook wall:
Them: “Hi, this is Rumor Control.”
Me: “There’s a rumor out there that Banko’s has collapsed. I know it was surrounded by water, but can you confirm that it has collapsed?”
Them: “Yep, that’s what we’re hearing too!”
JJ Banko’s is still standing to this day, so this info was obviously not correct.
After the water receded, people needed help cleaning up, collecting supplies and getting their lives back to normal. Two websites were established locally to help get information out and match up various items with people who needed them. They are:
There were also other Facebook pages established for people in the surrounding counties to try to accomplish what we did with the Wyoming Valley Flood page. I also created a link on NEPA Blogs that contained a bunch of information I collected from Facebook and the News about things people needed and other ways they could help out. Updating the “Giving Help” post became a daily chore, because the status of the need for help and what could be provided changed hourly. At one point, I think I was only sleeping a few hours because I was more concerned about updating that page and getting information out there. My last update was on October 3rd. I’m not sure how many people actually used it, but to this day “Giving Help” has been the one blog post that has received the most page views on the blog (2084 to be exact).
Looking back, what could we have done differently? I don’t know. I think it worked out pretty well. We probably could have created a Twitter account to ReTweet important information. Unlike the girls in the TED Talk video, Harold/Jason/Karla and I were widespread, and not on the front lines of any one recovery effort so it was hard to know exactly who needed what and where. Karla did try to show the Facebook page setup to the Luzerne County EMA Director as potential way for getting information out the next time there is a disaster, but received no response to date.
As the girls from the TED Talk discovered, communities in major disasters need the right tools at the right time and put into the hands of the right people. Their disaster recovery in a box solution “Recovers” could be valuable resource the next time around (and there will most certainly be a next time). Are our community leaders investigating such solutions and looking at how to improve information sharing in a disaster? I hope so.