One NJ Police Chief’s Experience During Hurricane Irene

In late-August, Hurricane Irene hit the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, causing about $7 billion in damage and killing at least 33 people. Some cities were more prepared than others. One police department recently offered insights to about the use of social media during the disaster.

During the recent hurricane and aftermath, Chief Vincent Caruso of the Lodi, New Jersey Police Department, discovered the value of social media, particularly when disseminating crisis information. Caruso has found that an increasing number of organizations are using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites to post information during a crisis.

According to the “idisaster 2.0” report, Caruso said, “Deciding which of these organizations will be THE voice for the crisis is a really important discussion to have before an event occurs … If a system is not in place, it makes it almost impossible to maintain message consistency. Letting the public know which of these streams to follow is another vital part of the process.”

Social media allowed the Lodi Police Department (LPD) to “gain situational awareness from citizens.” But how does an organization trust the incoming information from local citizens, or elsewhere? According to Caruso, the answer is to always verify the incoming information before acting on it.

Other important elements of an effective emergency response information plan include timeliness, creating a steady flow of information, and monitoring social networks for comments, @ messages and rumor. This sometimes takes more than one person, especially during the height of a crisis. Caruso also said it’s possible to rely on updating social media using mobile devices when away from a main computer.

Another benefit of using social media during a disaster is the reduction of call volume. “An emergency manager and friend of mine from nearby Cecil County Maryland recounted at a recent conference that during Irene, personnel in his 911 center asked him, ‘What’s going on? We normally have hundreds more calls. We don’t know what you’re doing, but keep it up.’ What he was doing was posting information to social networks as soon as it was available,” Caruso said.

For more information about using social media during a crisis, visit: