As NYC.gov buckles, city government pivots to the Internet to share Hurricane #Irene resources

Tens of millions of citizens in the United States are watching as Hurricane Irene churns up the East Coast. If you’re in the path of the immense storm, today is a critical day to prepare. Visit Ready.gov for relevant resources. Unfortunately for citizens in my home state, New York City is right in the path of Hurricane Irene. As many New Yorkers look for information online, however, we’re watching NYC.gov is buckling under demand. For part of Friday morning, NYC.gov would not resolve. The outage is providing a real-time experiment in how a megalopolis with millions of citizens provides information during a natural disaster.

As the Village Voice reported, NYC is evacuating the most vulnerable and putting out advisories but city websites are down. As a result, we’re watching how city government is forced to pivot to the Internet and commercial websites, including social media, to get information out.

Dropbox is hosting a Hurricane #Irene Evacuation PDF (It’s not completely clear if city government uploaded the PDF or not, when this post was published). NYC chief digital officer Rachel Sterne and the official NYC.gov Twitter account have acknowledged and apologized for the outage and pointed citizens to docstoc.com for the official evacuation map:

NYC Hurricane Evacuation Map

Notably, Mayor Bloomberg’s staff has uploaded the New York City Hurricane Evacuation Zones PDF to his personal website, MikeBloomberg.com, and tweeted it out. We’re in unexplored territory here, in terms of a mayor sharing information this way, but in the context of incoming weather, it’s hard to fault the move, though it’s likely inevitable.. [Ed: As Nick Clark Judd pointed out in his excellent post on how governments are scrambling to deliver information to citizens looking for hurricane information online, Mayor Bloomberg has posted press releases and other information to his website several times before.]

What is clear, amidst growing concerns of a multi-billion dollar disaster, is that the New York City government’s website hosting strategy needs to be revisited. According to Provide Security, NYC servers are hosted in a data center in Brooklyn. Spikes in demand are precisely what cloud computing offers to the private sector and, increasingly, to federal government. As hurricane clouds gather, it’s probably past time for New York government to get familiar into cloudbursting or move quickly implementing internal architectures that include a private cloud, through Nebula or something similar, to handle the load. In the context of disasters, surge capacity for government websites is no longer a “nice-to-have” — it’s a must-have.

UPDATE: Civic technologist Philip Ashlock is mirroring NYC Irene data & links on Amazon Web Services (AWS). Even though NYC didn’t move critical resources to the cloud itself, a member of New York City’s technology community stepped up to help the city and citizens in a crisis. That’s Gov 2.0 in action:

Maps

NYC.gov Hurricane Evacuation Zone Finder
OASIS Map (more info)
ArcGIS Map
hurricane_map_english.pdf 

Raw Data

googleearth_hurricane_zone.kmz 
Shapefiles: OEM_HurricaneEvacCenters_001.zip
Shapefiles: OEM_HurricaneEvacZones_001.zip

Hurricane resources from the Feds

The federal government is providing information on Hurricane Irene at Hurricanes.gov and sharing news and advisories in real-time on the radio, television, mobile devices and online using social media channels. A curated list from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (@FEMA) is embedded below:

If you use Twitter, a key follow this weekend is FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, who tweets at @CraigAtFEMA. This morning, Fugate tweeted out a link to new digital tools, including a FEMA Android app and text shortcodes. If you’re at risk, this information is for you. Shayne Adamski, senior manager for digital engagement, blogged the details:

In the new FEMA App, you’ll be able to:

  • Check off the items you have in your family’s emergency kit,
  • Enter your family emergency meeting locations,
  • Review safety tips on what to do before, during and after a disaster,
  • View a map of shelters and disaster recovery centers across the U.S., and
  • Read our latest blog posts.

When we built the app, we kept the disaster survivor in mind, making sure much of the information would be available even if cell phone service isn’t, so you’ll be able to access the important information on how to safe after a disaster, as well as your family emergency meeting locations.

So as Administrator Fugate said, you can download our app today in the Android market, and look for FEMA App for Blackberry version 6 devices and iPhones in the coming weeks.

FEMA Text Messages 

A new and separate service from the new app, our text message updates will allow cell phone users to receive text message updates from FEMA.

  • Text PREPARE to 43362 (4FEMA) to sign up to receive monthly disaster safety tips
  • Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345)
    (For availability of shelters and services, contact your local emergency management agency.)
  • Text DRC + your ZIP code to 44362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest disaster recovery center in your area (for example, if you lived in Annandale, Virginia with a Zip Code of 22003, you’d text DRC 22003).

We’re excited to provide these two new ways you can access information on your mobile device, in addition to our already existing mobile site – m.fema.gov. Stay tuned to our blog, Facebook and Twitter channels as we roll out our app to the remaining smartphone operating systems and make enhancements to our text messages program.

So download the app or text PREPARE to 44362, and then leave us a comment and let us know what you think. We encourage you to tell a family member, friend, or neighbor as well, so they can have disaster safety information always at their fingertips.

[Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory]

East Coast earthquake cements role of social media in government crisis communications

At approximately 1:51:04 ET today, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake 3.7 miles below Virginia rattled the east coast of the United States from South Carolina to Maine.

A 3D map of the earthquake from DC-based DevelopmentSeed, embedded below, visualizes the intensity of the tremblor.

Thankfully, today’s earthquake does not appear to have caused any deaths nor collapsed buildings or bridges, although the National Cathedral sustained what officials call “substantial earthquake damage.” Longer term earthquake damage in DC will take time to assess. Eric Wemple has a comprehensive assessment of earthquake coverage that includes links to more logistical details and assessments, if you’re interested.

A reminder to prepare

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate talked directly to the public over the Internet, using his Twitter account, emphasizing that this quake is a reminder to get prepared.

He also highlighted a critical resource for an increasingly mobile citizenry, m.fema.gov/earthquake, and hurricanes.gov, which will be an important source of information as Hurricane Irene moves up the coast.

Additionally, Govfresh founder Luke Fretwell compiled an excellent short federal government primer to earthquake preparedness that’s full of more resources, including what to do before, during and after an earthquake

Key earthquake information can be found at Ready.gov and the FEMA, USGS and Centers for Disease Control Websites. USGS also provides a seven-step Protecting Your Family From Earthquakes safety guide (embed below).

Remember, prepare, plan and stay informed.

Social media fills a fault

seismic waves by xkcd

While both DC residents and people across the United States took the opportunity to joke about the quake using Twitter, a more sobering reality emerged as residents found themselves unable to make phone calls over overloaded cellphone networks: social networks offered an important alternate channel to connect with friends, family and coworkers. In the context of overloaded networks, the Department of Homeland Security offered earthquake advice: don’t call. In fact, DHS urged urged citizens to use social media to contact one another. The White House amplified that message:

RT @DHSJournal: Quake: Tell friends/family you are OK via text, email and social media (@twitter & facebook.com). Avoid calls.less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry® Favorite Retweet Reply

 

Citizens didn’t need much urging to turn to social networks after the quake. According to

Facebook hosts conversation with Red Cross on social media in emergencies

The day after the earthquake, in what turns out to be an unusually good scheduling choice, Facebook DC is hosting a conversation with the Red Cross on the use of social media in emergencies. As a new infographic from the Red Cross, embedded below, makes clear, the importance of emergency social data has grown over the past year.

Social Media in Emergencies

According to a new national survey:

  • The Internet is now the third most popular way for people to gather emergency information, after television and local radio
  • Nearly a fourth of the online population would use social media to let family and friends know they are safe.
  • 80% of the general public surveyed believe emergency response organizations should monitor social media.
  • About one third of those polled via telephone said they would expect help to arrive within an hour.

The event will be livestreamed on Facebook DC’s page at 3 PM EDT, if you’re online and free to tune in.

Watch live streaming video from facebookdclive at livestream.com

More Americans Using Social Media and Technology in Emergencies