Earthquake & Social Media Reports

Yesterday’s 5.8 earthquake in Central Virginia was only about 40 miles from where I was at in the basement of the School of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University or VCU. I was participating in a new PhD student Q&A as we are welcoming 10 new students this semester. I have to admit it was pretty unnerving thinking about the building, which is almost as old as Richmond itself, and the fact that I was sitting in the basement while it rattle. At about 1:51pm, a student next to me said “Is that an earthquake?” But we all thought it was just some heavy machinery as they are doing lots of construction in the area. I walked over to the window to see if I could see a truck or something, but as I leaned against the wall I felt the building shaking even more. We decided to exit out the emergency door and head outside.

Once we walked up the steps to the front of the building, many other colleagues and faculty members were outside wondering if indeed it was an earthquake. I immediately pulled out my phone to tweet about the experience and as fast as my phone could refresh, I saw people tweeting in from up and down the eastern seaboard about the rumblings. I started to tell everyone where people were as they felt the quake. This is probably one of the more interesting things for me as I am really interested in social media but I have never experienced an opportunity to use it in this kind of situation.

The fact was that I couldn’t get a call out and I know many emergency professionals and the news media say to at least text, but my text messages were not going through either. Which is probably why I never received a text from the VCU emergency alert system. Thank goodness for social media as I was able to get real-time updates via twitter as to what was happening. Once we were allowed back in the building, I still couldn’t get a call out to my wife and texts were not going anywhere. I logged onto Facebook to post an update saying I was okay and my wife instant messaged me making sure I was fine. Thankfully, she was home and there was no damage or injuries.

I have seen media reports about the benefits of using twitter and other social media during natural disasters, but I never imagined I would be using social media for such an instance. It amazes me that as the night wore on and I watched the news reports from the events of the day, how emergency officials talked about their communications going down and the inability to get calls through or having the radio jam up from to much call volume. I’m not saying we need to replace those channels with social media, but I am saying I think that social media deserves more respect than it often gets. I do see it getting more respect as new individuals see its many benefits, especially in instances such as the earthquake yesterday.

The news did report on some damage that happened out in Louisa county, like the photo shown. There were also reports about the high school having some major damage, but only minor injuries, and school is going to be closed for the rest of the week.

Other photos began circling on twitter about the massive destruction in DC.

Thankfully, no significant damage was reported and people took the days events in stride. I did hear some reports of aftershocks and saw friends posting on Facebook at 8pm about the aftershocks, but that was about it. I don’t know if we dodged a bullet or whether something bigger will come. Well we do still need to prepare for Hurricane Irene this weekend, although indications having heading more out to sea. At any rate, the past year has been an interesting one.

Oh, one more interesting thing. I didn’t get to see the news as the earthquake was unfolding or immediately after, but my wife told me it was funny to watch the news media scramble to find stuff to report on. The took most of their initial information from Twitter and Facebook as they couldn’t get a call out to any authorities for an official word. They would show images of their computers shaking and then go back to their twitter stream to see what people were saying. Incredible, this day we live in, how we can access information and communicate in so many ways.

 

 

 

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About jimmysw
Assistant Professor of Social Work with a focus on Social Media, Social Work Education and all things technology.

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