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Hurricane Harvey 1st Responders: More Rescued via Social Media than 911

Harvey has certainly hosted one of the nation’s largest and most widely watched invitations, disrupting our daily lives, as many of us have loved ones there still battling the aftermath of Harvey. Whether you are a digital satellite or mobile apps watcher - Facebook, Instagram, Facebook Live, Weather Channel or another internet apps watcher, you’ve been hooked on watching the latest unfold daily. When something starts as a national threat and becomes fixated on a point where we have US Citizens at risk, we ban together to Hunker Down. In this case, #HXHXHX, stands for “Hunker Down in Houston for Harvey”.

Many thanks to our most recognized 1st Responders but how about those 1st Responders in the background that also held us together, and are still working endless hours in the Houston & Texas Coastal Area.

Here is a typical list receiving Global News tributes and heroic “Thank You’s”:

  • Security – Police, Coast Guard, National Guard

  • Fire

  • Medical Emergency – Medics, Ambulance, Hospital

  • Utility Crews

  • News Crew

Here is the “Not so Typical” list receiving ongoing Thank You’s:

  • Fellow Citizens from many neighboring states with watercraft; Total rescues reported are exceeding 8500

  • 100’s of volunteer rescuers from as far away as Niagara Falls

  • Many shelters and donation collection sites (e.g. United Way, Churches, Businesses collections)

  • SPCA and yes, in Texas, Alligator Rescuers

Yet, there is one more list of “Unnoticed 1st Responders” that deserve a huge Thank You too:

  • For every one of these organizations mentioned above there are social media responders making it all happen. They are responding to a “Guargantula Overload” and working tirelessly long hours to respond to the enormous messengering, posts & highlights.

  • Since the Houston 911 Call line experienced an increase of 7X’s it’s normal call volume, imagine each of these social media responders stepping up to deal with 5-10X’s the response volume. The critical difference is, the 911 Call Line has a backup plan for disasters. How many social media responders do not have a plan? Or rather how many businesses contracting with their social media responders do not have an agreement for crisis mode operations?

For the businesses hit, what happened to their social media response teams during these times?

One has to wonder if they were available to respond timely and deal with the extremely higher volumes. Better yet, some businesses in the hit areas may have survived fine but their social media team was isolated from supporting them either due to floods or power outages, or tending to their families. Often non-profit organizations depend on volunteers for getting their messages out on social media. Typically, volunteers are less dependable than employees so with the imminent hurricane, tornados and flood threats, they are even less likely to perform their responsibilities.

During this time of preparing for the Harvey strike, people were #H#H#H, “Hunkering Down for Harvey in Houston”. They were filling up their gas tanks, stocking up at the grocery store, charging batteries, packing house and garage items in plastic and moving them up higher, either to the second floor or attic. The more items outside that can be secured or brought inside (e.g. patio table and chairs, take down hanging planters) the less likely they are to come crashing through your windows. They were preparing to be without power for days. In some cases, they were also packing up to evacuate.

As Harvey lingered and the 100-yr flood became the unprecedented 500-yr flood, more people focused on moving to higher ground. When it became the 1000-yr flood, it became cataclysmic. Katrina in 2005 in neighboring Louisiana, is still very vivid flood disaster memories. As we all know in both disasters, some waited too late and had to be rescued, putting our first responders at risk, but what is significantly different? Both hit on August 25! Nearly 2000 died in Katrina (Category 4) with 6.5 Trillion gallons of rainfall and yet Harvey was stronger and stayed for days (Category 5) with an expected total of 20+Trillion gallons and will only kill ~50, when the final numbers come in. In fact, rainfall is so historic, the National Weather Service has had to update their color maps to measure rainfall. They simply didn't have an existing color to visualize just how much rain has fallen.

Again, what is significantly different, where a more catastrophic storm since Katrina 12 years leaves us with perhaps more homes destroyed but very few human casualties.

>> The #1 answer is, Technology - smart phones, satellites and mobile apps

>> The #2 answer is, Social Media Networks

>> The #3 answer is, GPS

Communications are more open - the word gets out quicker. We are more tightly connected without the dependency on land lines. In 2005, they were trying to dial out to a help line, assuming they had power (and were not flooded) for their land line phones and the same at the receiving end. By 2017, many have built huge networks on social media. With just 1 posting, you can reach millions or target someone specific. Even if you don’t have a huge network, if you can reach someone who does and will repost for you, then that’s how you can get the word out to millions.

During Katrina, Social Media didn’t exist as we know it today. Facebook was in it’s infancy (<18 mos. old) and still experimental in a few colleges. The 1st i-phone hadn’t hit the markets yet. Twitter wasn’t invented yet.

During Harvey, we have significant social media interaction. We have broader awareness, getting the forecasts out more timely, and all of us can play a helpful role.

Imagine the impact to the social media first responder’s workload:

HPD stops use of their social media accounts for rescue requests
  • Crisis Mode: Most call 911 in a crisis. Not everyone thinks of social media. Plus, some people may believe they are in a life-threatening situation when by comparison, others are in higher-risk situations. In the beginning of the storms, the Houston Police Department was able to keep up with the requests for help whether it be 911 or social media. Lt. Craig Cummings said, “For a while, we were doing our best. We just couldn’t do it all.” Under normal circumstances the average response time for an emergency 911 call is 10 minutes, and can vary from 2 minutes to 20 minutes, according to American Police Beat. As the water rose as much as a foot per hour and the 911 response was, “there are dozens ahead of you”, fears took over. The lines were out or their phones were going dead waiting on 911 hold. Pleas for help were reaching out beyond 911, 311 and the non-emergency phone number in epoch outreaches. Social Media became the “De Facto 911”. The messages were coming in from various social media channels with pleas for anyone to rescue them. With power outages, family and friends couldn’t reach their family members in the Houston area to verify that they were safe. That added another layer of pleas reaching out for help on social media, in hopes that someone in the area would see their plea, pick up the address, and rescue them. On Day 3, the Houston Police issued this tweet and posted it on Facebook: “Please do not use the HPD social media accounts for rescue requests.” In paraphrasing, they said please use 911 for life threatening emergencies. Use 311 or 713-884-3131 for all other.

  • Daily Norm: In normal business, inquirers have come to expect quicker and quicker response times and quite frankly businesses have not been able to respond timely enough. With the raft of this Harvey disaster these average response numbers fell, not only in the TX Coastal area but also impacted others in the Supply Chain.

Media Expected Response Average

Email 77% expect in <6 Hrs. 7 Hrs. 51 Min.

Facebook 85% expect in <6 Hrs. 1 Day 3 Hrs. 47 Min.

Twitter 64% expect in <60 Min. 1 Day 7 Hrs. 12 Min.

If you knew these averages and you just have water slowly seeping in a few places in your home, you might be willing to wait this long. However, if you read the postings on HPD’s Facebook during these hours, it’s mostly desperate cries for help evacuating elderly and kids, water reaching high levels (2nd floor) and no attic, no way out of attic, parent is disabled and more rain coming as we headed towards 50”. Would you reach out on social media for someone to help you? Of course, you would, if you needed rescuing. We know people got rescued because the rescuers saw their social media postings. If police department social media accounts are not supposed to be for rescue requests, then where should they direct the victims so that someone-anyone will see it and can rescue them? When does the situation change from some rising water to life-threatening floods, meanwhile 20 Trillion gallons dumps on Houston. Is it at ankle deep or waist or ceiling?

Thanks to Texas Wave Runners!

Conclusion: Every human has a different level of risk-tolerance and decision-making for themselves and their family. Most people, given all the facts available at the time will make the best decision they can. Social Media played a huge role in connecting the cries for “I need rescuing” to “I’ve got a watercraft”. Without the connections on social media this would not happen.

Top 5 Things you can do to help:

  1. Our 1st Responders are also our Social Media Responders. Please give them a huge “Thank You”.

  2. You can also pass this message to all of them. “We, “Social Media Breakfast Dallas”, the 2nd largest Social Media Group in Texas understand how hard the social media responders are working and respect their extra efforts through Harvey and it’s after affects that could go on for the next couple of years.”

  3. Be patient, they will get back to you when they can.

  4. Volunteer to help get helpful information disseminated. Dallas: Connecting trucker to donation center with trailers loading (e.g. Lucinda Ruch shared Oncor's live video. August 29 at 8:52am. N. Dallas, TX. Oncor Electric sending 70 trucks & 160 employees to the Harvey Areas. They left this AM.)

  5. Get connected to your own first responders (Police, Fire, Utilities…). Teach your kids and grandkids that not every country has what we take for granted every day. Teach them respect, pride and show their appreciation.

If you enjoyed the post, please click like, share and comment to let me know!


About the Author:

Lucinda Ruch, specializes in transforming business strategy into results. 26 years consulting in Fortune 500 companies and 8 yrs coaching small business owners. Her LinkedIn accolades include: I.A. certified LinkedIn Public Speaker and Trainer, “Top Most Recommended” and LinkedIn accredited her in the “Top 1% Viewed”. She’s brought the Co-Founder of LinkedIn to Dallas for her social media seminar. She has not only spoken to 100’s of groups, taught 1000’s, coached/trained 3 Inc 5000 recipients, she has a client base on 3 continents. Catch her on The Dean’s List TV Show, TV Business Spotlight or replay her radio shows. Follow her blog at –

About Social Media Breakfast (SMB) Dallas:

SMB Dallas was formed May 5, 2010 for businesses (and individuals) primarily involved in B2B, to network, learn, and showcase their interests in various uses of social media. From a business owner who utilizes social media to promote and grow their business, to the media expert or the new beginner, SMB Dallas is an organization of 1400+ members coming together to share, teach and learn. SMB’s roots started in “The Big 3” in social media – LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and has constantly expanded topics to more social media platforms strategic approaches and tools for many more. The program format varies from showcasing various keynote speakers, “Hot Topic” panel discussions and roundtable “Burning Question” format, so all have an opportunity to participate and grow in knowledge. Meeting the last Thursday of each month, SMB Dallas members gather to share experiences, successes and engage with each other on a variety of different topics in and around the social media sphere. We are an open group on LinkedIn. For more information please visit

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