The key to using Twitter and Facebook in emergencies is choosing the right entities to follow. Misinformation is common. So who to trust?
Below, a beginner’s guide to finding the most helpful accounts.
A word of caution: Sometimes a social media account looks official, but it’s not. On Twitter, look for a blue verified badge, which indicates the account is authentic (although getting verified can take quite awhile, so not every legitimate account has them). Facebook has gray verification badges. Another way is to search for the desired person or organization online, like the Paris Tourist Office, and then connect to that organization’s social media account (@ParisJeTaime on Twitter; @p.infos on Facebook) from its official website.
You can follow your favorite weather outlet, but if you want the latest from the horse’s mouth, follow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service Twitter account, @NWS, which provides regular storm updates. You can also follow the service’s regional and related accounts, such as the National Weather Service San Juan (@NWSSanJuan) and the National Hurricane Center Atlantic Ops (@NHC_Atlantic), though @NWS often retweets the most important updates from those accounts. The primary National Hurricane Center account is @NWSNHC.
— Natl Hurricane Ctr (@NWSNHC) September 20, 2017
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (@CDCgov) posts health and safety updates. After Hurricane Irma, it tweeted a link to its food and water safety guidelines, as well as home cleanup recommendations.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (@fema) provides information about what it’s doing before, during and after emergencies and how you may be able to get help.
The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs posts travel-related security messages at @TravelGov. For instance, in advance of Hurricane Maria, it tweeted that U.S. citizens should leave Turks and Caicos, if possible.
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) September 19, 2017
You may also want to follow your local office of emergency management. In New York City, for example, the Emergency Management feed is @nycoem. Local Fire and Police department feeds are also helpful. After the recent Parsons Green attack in London, the Metropolitan Police Service (@metpoliceuk) tweeted updates on the investigation and threat level changes. Following such accounts may also keep you up to date about areas that may have a heavier police presence or street closings.
Transportation and Lodging
On a national and international level, accounts to follow include @Amtrak and @RailEurope, bus lines (like @GreyhoundBus and @MegaBus), cruise lines, car services, such as @Uber and @Lyft, and, of course, airports and airlines. Even if you fly only one airline, it can be useful to follow a few. For instance, on Sept. 18, @United tweeted that it was canceling some flights and offering travel waivers to and from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Even if you don’t fly United, their tweets might alert you to the possibility that your own carrier might take similar actions.
Airbnb (@Airbnb and @AirbnbHelp) can be helpful even if you’re not a member. The company has a disaster response program that helps people find temporary accommodations. For instance, recently it tweeted that it was using the program to help people affected by the earthquake in Mexico, allowing Airbnb members to open homes for free to displaced neighbors and relief workers.
We also encourage local hosts in CMDX to list their spaces thru the program to help neighbors in need. 2/2 https://t.co/r11u7sYq7g
— Airbnb Help (@AirbnbHelp) September 20, 2017
When planning a visit to a city, consider following the airports, train stations, bus lines, tourism boards and embassies as well as your favorite hotels. They can sometimes be sources of emergency information.
Booking sites like @Expedia and @Priceline also post relevant information in emergencies. The Transportation Security Administration’s main Twitter account is @TSA, though you won’t find much up-to-the-minute travel information. (For that, see the accounts in the categories below.) The agency’s more useful Twitter account is @AskTSA, which answers questions, often about what can be packed in a carry-on bag.
In New York City, useful accounts include the MTA subway service (@NYCTSubway), the Taxi and Limousine Commission (@nyctaxi) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (@PANYNJ). In some cities, like London, there’s a general Twitter account for Transport for London (@TfL), as well as for specific Tube lines, including the Central Line (@centralline) and Piccadilly Line (@piccadillyline).
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) September 19, 2017
Local Government and Tourism Boards
Following local government accounts in your hometown, as well as those in the places you plan to travel to can also provide current information. Not all government accounts are equally helpful, however. Sometimes tourism board accounts provide more expansive information.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization has been a source of up-to-date information about Hurricane Irma’s effects on the islands on its accounts on Facebook (@CaribbeanTourismOrganization) and Twitter (@ctotourism).
Update on Martinique in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria pic.twitter.com/Jdg31USUA3
— CTO Official Page (@ctotourism) September 20, 2017
Twitter Alerts and Facebook Safety Check
Use the Twitter Alerts feature for getting information during emergencies. You choose which individual accounts you want to receive alerts from, and if one of those accounts marks a tweet as an alert, you receive a notification on your mobile phone. (Alerts on your Twitter timeline appear with an orange bell.)
In emergencies, Facebook activates its Safety Check tool, which prompts users to let their friends and family know they’re safe and to find or provide help to others.
This list is merely a starter guide. There are many more useful places to turn, including travel agencies and bloggers. And of course you can follow news organizations (the Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel were especially helpful during Irma).