Event Recap: Social Media and Hurricane Sandy


This morning’s panel, Social Media and Hurricane Sandy, showcased the importance of various channels of information from official, unofficial and media-based information sources during and after the storm. The panel included Robin Lester Kenton of NYC Department of Transportation; Aaron Donovan and JP Chan of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; Ben Kabak of Second Avenue Sagas; and Tyson Evans of The New York Times.

Several themes emerged during the discussion:

Speed Overrides Risk: It’s often better to get information out quickly and risk its incorrectness than to wait, since customers will get (potentially incorrect) information from elsewhere. While it seems NYC DOT was more risk-averse during the hurricane, MTA posted two tweets that later had to be retracted, but, as Aaron noted, “the world didn’t stop revolving,” and the overall information sharing process was overwhelmingly positive.

Photos and Videos are Essential: Illustrations of storm damage and workers in the field are vital in public understanding, patience and support of recovery efforts. MTA posted prolifically on Flickr and YouTube, NYC DOT posted sporadically on Instagram (but will now add more posts during the next event), and those images were used widely, including on Second Avenue Sagas. Panelists agreed that “timeliness was more important than quality,” as Aaron said, since people were focused on the newsworthiness.

Behind the scenes, it’s resource-intensive: All information-dissemination efforts required extensive research, collaboration and coordination. Tyson demonstrated the New York Times’ internal working spreadsheet used to populate the website’s transportation guide, explaining that a large team simultaneously updated the document from a plethora of sources. Robin reported that with power out at DOT’s office, major efforts across teams spread across the City were needed to update the website, while Ben recalled updating SAS while conducting his day job from home.

All panelists agreed that greater transparency in the public sector leads to greater trust of the information provided. They all plan to take the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy to the next major event to provide open, image-intensive information.

Finally, the panelists were asked to name their transportation (or not) social media role models. The list included:

- Washington State DOT

- Steve Vance

- BARTtv

- Boris Johnson

- Dana Rubinstein, Ted Mann and Matt Flegenheimer as complementary Twitter accounts

- NY Times Metro

Thanks to all who attended and participated, and we hope to see you at our next event, Short Talks, Big Ideas: Innovations in Transportation.

Photo Credit: Susi Wunsch of Velojoy

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