Social media apps get help to storm victims

September 17, 2018
Zello app

Social media has rapidly changed the way people experience and respond to natural disasters. From Twitter and Instagram to Snapchat and Nextdoor, users can share photos and information and respond to each other in real time.

“People’s devices are their lifelines, literally, especially in moments like this,” said WRAL Social Media Manager Wendy Gatlin. “People are able to ask for help quicker and get help quicker.”

Facebook is one popular way to connect during disasters. Gatlin said it’s helping people who are cut off from other communications.

“It’s called a check-in system, where you actually mark yourself safe in a disaster. A lot of people are utilizing this tool right now to let family and friends know that they’re OK,” Gatlin said.

Facebook is also offering ways to find and give help. Those options are on the check-in page, or people can just search.

“You can find a group simply based on your location,” Gatlin explained. “The simple tip is to go to Facebook and, in the search bar, just type in “Hurricane Florence Help” and go to “Groups.” You can find some groups that you’ll be able to actually get really live information from and people that are ready to step up and help at any given moment.”

Another, newer social media app is Zello. It started last year during Hurricane Harvey to help the Cajun Navy volunteer rescuers communicate with each other and with storm victims. It’s being used the same way in North Carolina after Florence.

Gatlin says the free app is like “a souped-up walkie-talkie” and is very popular during disasters.

Crowdsource Rescue is one of the busiest channels on Zello right now. They’ve coordinated the rescues of more than 1,300 people so far in North Carolina, with 3,400 volunteers helping with everything from boat rescues to chainsaw crews.

The app lets people ask for help or sign up to volunteer. Moderators are on at all times to help connect them.

Another useful channel is Hurricane Florence Mapping, where people can get real-time information about travel conditions – even local roads – in flooded areas and get expert advice about how to get from point A to point B if roads are blocked or flooded.

WRAL News has started its own Zello channel at WRAL HERE TO HELP HURRICANE FLORENCE – and, of course, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Update hourly