Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Facebook offers tools as hurricane season heats up

Staff Report //July 31, 2020//

Facebook offers tools as hurricane season heats up

Staff Report //July 31, 2020//

Listen to this article

With Isaias, now a Category 1 hurricane, setting its sights on Florida this weekend, a social media platform used by more than 2.5 billion people worldwide can help provide security and peace of mind.

Facebook has several tools, including local alerts and information pages, that can quickly distribute information to large numbers of users, promoters say.

“We have a range of partnerships, including with the Red Cross, and also tools that we have found to be pretty helpful for folks as they kind of navigate those difficult times dealing with hurricanes,” Erica Woods, Facebook manager of state public policy, said.

In addition to the “marked safe from” alerts that have become familiar sights on social media, users can follow city, town or county pages, as well as first responder sites, and be the first to learn about news affecting those organizations.

“They will push out information, whether it be resources, whether it be shelter-in-place (or) supplies information, any kind of up-to-date knowledge on a hurricane. You will get that instantly when you open up your Facebook right at the top,” said Woods, who said Richland County, the city of Sumter and the town of Hilton Head Island are among the S.C. government groups taking advantage of local alerts. “They understand the value. They’re just able to type in a quick message and honestly reach thousands instantly. Folks are definitely using them. We’ve seen them be used for shelter-in-place orders, curfews, hurricane warnings — the wide spectrum of options.”

In addition, specific Facebook groups, such as Grand Strand Hurricane Prep 2020, share valuable information rapidly.

“They share critical information about locations where you can get tools and supplies, food and water, and where you can donate as well,” Woods said. “Some people aren’t themselves dealing with any type of emergency but they want to give back.”

Facebook users can also create or donate to fundraisers, which “obviously help with response and relief and recovery efforts,” Woods said. “You can create those fundraisers for yourself or a loved one or your favorite nonprofit. We’ve seen that outside of hurricanes. We’ve seen it with COVID. We’ve seen it with personal needs. Luckily, we’ve gotten really good at those, where you can see all of the information and understand that you are donating to a proper cause, and folks absolutely love that tool.”

Tropical storm-force winds from Isaias are expected today over portions of the Bahamas, according to the National Hurricane Center, and could reach Florida as early as Saturday. The South Carolina coast is projected to feel effects of the storm on Sunday.

Businesses throughout the state are urged to prepare, including the construction sector.

Nick Bishop, vice president of environmental, health and safety for multinational construction and development company Skanska’s Southeast civil operations, said storm preparedness includes expecting the unexpected.

“When it comes to preparing for hurricanes, floods and storms, it is most important to be prepared for the unpredictable and plan ahead,” Bishop said in a news release. “Keeping your people and the surrounding community safe is paramount.” 

Bishop recommends steps including removing debris from construction sites, taking stock of materials and equipment, and ensuring that water removal systems are in place as a storm approaches. Properties should be secured and closed and employees sent home. Post-storm, caution should be used in assessing damage.

Facebook’s Woods said while the company does not track participation in specific groups or pages, global response mapping does allow tracking of people who may need assistance.  

“Most people have their phones with them,” she said. “That’s a great way to track where people are who need assistance, and we’re able to share that global tracking information with local government so they know where people are out of power or in need of resources. We’re able to collaborate all that data and make it useful.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also spawned small business hub websites to provide resources to Facebook users, Woods said.  

“People are able to really reach out and connect with folks on our platform, and that’s the goal,” she said.