With floodwaters threatening, your first instinct might not be to update your status on Facebook or Twitter. But when the Red River in Fargo, North Dakota, flooded in late March, such social networking tools helped residents protect their businesses and homes.
As the waters approached a record 41 feet, some people found the task of building dikes to protect their property too difficult to tackle alone. Yet the government's volunteer phone lines were overwhelmed. As the Associated Press reported, volunteers such as Kevin Tobosa found other ways to coordinate their efforts. Hearing that a friend needed help stacking sandbags, Tobosa headed over, but first he posted a status update on his personal Facebook page: "Heading to 2825 Lilac Lane in North Fargo—needs to be raised another 2 feet." Help was on its way.
Tobosa later helped set up a Facebook group for people willing to join the volunteer effort. The group used direct messages and text messages to help coordinate volunteer activities by its 5,612 members.
Folks outside Fargo turned to social networking tools as well. At the time of the flood, software engineer Troy Elseth was in Mountain View, California. But he had just purchased a house in Fargo right next to the flooding river. He found himself frequently checking water levels online as floodwaters swelled toward their peak. Then, he told A.P., "I realized a quick way to check it would be to set up a Twitter feed." Twitter allows users to send short, 140-character messages to their friends and followers via cell phones or computers. Elseth posted the level of Fargo's Red River every hour or so, which sent the information to the phones or inboxes of his feed's 675 readers—an invaluable source of news as the crisis unfolded.