Fast Company

Web 2.0 Community Responds to Hurricane Season

When Hurricane Gustav threatened to crash into New Orleans and bring more destruction to the city that never recovered from Hurricane Katrina, Andy Carvin, a social media strategist for National Public Radio, used his Web 2.0 savvy skills to take action and start the websites hurricanes08.org and hurricanewiki.org. The sites serve as an information aggregator for the latest information on hurricanes threatening the US and provide an easy way for volunteers to connect with communities.

“I thought we needed something that could connect the dots,” said Carvin. Once Carvin developed the idea he put up the “Bat Signal” and friends and volunteers including Craig Newmark, Founder of Craigs List and Deanna Zandt, a media technologist for progressive and grassroots activist organizations pitched in to help. Newmark helped promote the site while Zandt spearheaded the development of the wiki.

“I was surprised to see the amount of official information that was strewn all over the place with little cohesion-- from federal and local government to NGOs, in various states of updated-ness. It seemed immediately critical to create a one-stop-shopping repository,” said Zandt.

Within a few hours they setup hurricanewiki.org to collect static resources, a Ning social network at hurricanes08.org to aggregate dynamic content from the web, and Twitter accounts such as @StormWire to spread the word. “Essentially, we've got the wiki as our reference desk, our social network as our operations center and our Twitter feeds as our news wire service,” said Carvin.

The team also utilized:

Yahoo! Pipes and Widgetbox to create widgets and RSS feeds.

Utterz widgets to display relevant mobile audio content.

Flickr badges to display photos.

Google Maps

Once the sites launched, Carvin, Zandt and team promoted the sites using Twitter, blogging and listservs. Within 24 hours they had 500 people signed up to participate in the effort. Close to 100,000 people visited the site the day Hurricane Gustav came ashore.

“We've received very positive feedback for the project, which I think is great, but I'm more interested in the amount of volunteers we have contributing” said Carvin. “We've had to deal with 3 storms in about 10 days, and it's been a challenge sustaining everyone's energy level to contribute in a consistent, coordinated fashion. So all the news and blog coverage has helped recruit more volunteers, but we still need a lot more if we're going to stay on top of Hurricane Ike coming ashore in less than 24 hours.”

Have some free time to pitch in? Sign up at hurricanes08.org.

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1 Comments

  • Anne Dougherty

    It's nice to see concrete examples of how these tools can be used to do more than serve customized ad content. It's also comforting in the face of predictions that "the web" has become one big shopping mall that disparately developed tools can be used together so effectively.