Dan Gibson Utilities using social media during a crisis

But first, what the heck was going on at the AGA offices during the earthquake

So yeah, yesterday was interesting.

I’m sitting in my cube when I feel something start to shake. It’s very subtle and ends pretty quickly. I look up and see Courtney staring at me over our divider. “What was that?”

Sherri, sitting a few cubes over goes, “Sorry, I’m packing for the meeting and dropped a box.” I think to myself, “that must have been one heavy box.”

I stand up and see quite a few people beginning to move for the exits. I get out, “Maybe we should evacuate the building” before the tremors start in again. Suddenly the alarms in the building are going off. I grab my laptop, throw it in my bag, and head for the door.

The Dominion twitter stream was a great source of information.

At this point, no one knows what’s going on. Sadly, 10 years later, my first thought is there has been an explosion somewhere close by. Our offices are right by the Capitol and Union Station so there’s always a concern the area would be a target. Talking with people around the office after, I wasn’t alone in thinking it had been an explosion.

I am glad to say that everyone evacuated in an orderly manner. Thankfully, it wasn’t like that scene in Airplane, for those of you old enough to remember, where it was anarchy. People moved quickly down the stairs and out of the building.

As soon as we were all gathered at our meeting area people started pulling out phones and figuring out what was going on. There are quite a few geologists and engineers at AGA so the conversation quickly turned to earthquake measurements and fault lines.

After a while, we started getting messages from Kevin updating us on the status of the building and letting us know what was going on. The building was closed for the evening. We were told we could go back to collect anything we needed or to head out.

Everyone had stories today about their respective commutes. My usual hour commute stretching into two and a half hours. Ella’s long bus ride. Paula walking in uncomfortable shoes to Elizabeth’s to borrow her car to get home. Many more.

Being a communications professional, I wanted to take a quick look at what some of our members were doing to communicate with their communities during the crisis.

Local utilities using social media during the crisis

I decided to pick Dominion and BGE. Dominion because they’re close to the incident area and BGE because Ammanuel Moore will be doing a presentation at the upcoming Communications and Marketing meeting.

You can see a screenshot of the Dominion twitter stream earlier in this post. If you visit the stream you’ll see they did a great job of providing information, including real-time updates about their systems and even answering some questions.

Dominion went further and took that some process to their Facebook page to reach a different group of people. You see the same process there. Consistent messaging and response to questions from their community. Great job.

Dominion took to Facebook to reach a different audience with the same consistent messaging and customer service.

BGE did a similar great job. As you look at the BGE twitter stream, you see they let people know they are aware of the situation to put people at ease. They give updates and include their 800 number in tweets so people can contact them easily to report outages. I’m hopeful that Ammanuel will be able to include more details about how they were using their communications channels during his talk.

Great job of including the 800 number in their tweets so people on mobile devices can find the number easily.

More on social media during crisis communications

East coast people aren’t used to earthquakes so while our friends on the left coast would probably shrug and move on, the earthquake generated quite a bit of action here. Following the East Coast quake at approx 1:55 p ET, the term “earthquake” appeared in Facebook status updates for nearly 3 mil U.S. users.

The White House and the Department of Homeland Security urged citizens to use social media to contact one another instead of phone lines. People needed little encouragement though as these communication channels are now fairly mainstream. The stats below are from a recent national survey:

  • The Internet is now the third most popular way for people to gather emergency information, after television and local radio
  • Nearly a fourth of the online population would use social media to let family and friends know they are safe.
  • 80% of the general public surveyed believe emergency response organizations should monitor social media.
  • About one third of those polled via telephone said they would expect help to arrive within an hour.

Here’s an excellent post on how different government agencies were using the web during the crisis. The post includes a great infographic from the Red Cross on how Americans use social tools during a crisis. Here’s another great infographic on using social media during a crisis.  The post is from February so I’d venture those percentages have increased. You can click the image below for a larger version.

I’m going to start working on compiling all the various twitter channels for our members to include in their profiles. I think the information will be useful in places like the mutual aid database.

Let us know what you think in the comments including any resources you think would be useful to others. I’m just hoping the hurricane this weekend fizzles out.


Dan Gibson

About Dan Gibson

Dan Gibson has lived on the web for more than 14 years. His travels have included the IEEE Computer Society, United Rentals, the National Association of Workforce Boards and the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals to name a few. The different perspectives he has gained from these various roles has enabled Dan to have a comprehensive view of the web, and the messages and conversations that happen there.
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