Superstorm Sandy: Governors Use Twitter to Help Save Lives

@GovChristie/Twitter(WASHINGTON) -- In past weather emergencies, Americans have tuned in to radios and televisions to get information on how to handle disasters, but with Hurricane Sandy, some governors used Twitter as a new way to reach their citizens.

Governors in every state where President Obama declared an emergency, except New Hampshire, tweeted about the storm throughout the day Tuesday, and their efforts continued on Wednesday.  Some sent out photos of damage, survival tips, traffic updates and other information.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted a YouTube video of National Guardsmen unloading supplies Tuesday evening.

"Hoping NYers are staying indoors&safe -->let your friends+fam know you're OK via social media, #Facebook status #Sandy," he tweeted earlier in the day.

Cuomo continued Wednesday to tweet minute-by-minute updates on New York City transit and excerpts from his news briefing with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Andrew Raseij, founder of Personal Democracy Media, a group that covers the intersection of tech and politics, said in this kind of emergency, tweeting can be important for governors.

Raseij praised New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's use of the platform.

"If he's out on social media warning people to evacuate before the press conference and that reaches somebody who leaves their home and then the power goes out and they can't even watch the press conference, then he's reached somebody and saved their lives," Raseij said.

Christie Director of Outreach Lauren Fritts said tweets from the governor's account these past few days were meant to inform and comfort New Jerseyans.

"If you know anything about Gov. Christie, it's that he likes to communicate with the people of New Jersey his way," Fritts said in an email Wednesday.  "Recognizing that many New Jerseyans are unable to watch TV or listen to the radio, we use the governor's twitter account (a common app on most smartphones) as a way to connect him with the people across this state."

Christie's tweets varied between informational updates and emotional expressions of empathy with the people of his state.

"Hurricane #Sandy is now moving twice as fast as I had originally been briefed-we are now expecting landfall in AC in the next hour," Christie tweeted just after 5:30 p.m. Monday.  

Later, in reference to people ignoring his evacuation warning, he posted, "I hope and pray there will not be a loss of life because of people's decisions to stay."

Raseij said, "It's very clear that Gov. Christie's emphatic use of social media saved lives in a moment of crisis."

Some, like Govs. Cuomo and Christie, have gone beyond the basic tweet, tagging other accounts and using hashtags to make their updates more searchable.

Raseij said social media posts are more effective when elected officials craft their own, rather than relying on a staffer to write the messages.

"Obviously, the authenticity of the elected official who uses it themselves creates far more affinity with citizens and, particularly in times of crisis, gives the public a sense that they're being led," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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