FEMA, W.H. send storm victims to Internet

by
October 31, 2012
By STEVE FRIESS | Politico

When President Barack Obama urged Americans under siege from Hurricane Sandy to stay inside and keep watch on ready.gov for the latest, he left out something pretty important — where to turn if the electricity goes out.

Despite the heightened expectation of widespread power and cable television failures, everyone from the president to local newscasters seem to expect the public to rely entirely on the Internet and their TVs for vital news and instructions.

None of the major cable or local news channels put emergency phone numbers or key radio station frequencies on their screens. The only phone-related instructions on the homepage of ready.gov is how to get monthly disaster-prep text messages. The Federal Emergency Management Agency told the public via Twitter to use texts and social media outlets to stay informed.

TV and radio are still the primary methods of getting information about Hurricane Sandy to the public, but social media are increasingly important to those efforts, FEMA chief Craig Fugate said Monday.

(Also on POLITICO: Tracking Hurricane Sandy: Facebook, Twitter abuzz with chatter)

“With these types of storms, you get a lot of this is going to be carried out through the traditional TV and radio media,” Fugate told reporters on a conference call. “But we’re using a lot more social media, we’re using everything from Facebook to Twitter. I think there’s a higher degree of awareness that people have of the storm is coming and what the impacts are going to be.”

Fugate also talked up battery-operated or hand-cranked radios during interviews on morning news shows.

A call to FEMA’s news desk, however, found even they didn’t have any non-Internet information readily available beyond suggestions that people call 911 in an emergency. When asked where folks should turn for information if they have no power, a FEMA worker said, “Well, those people who have a laptop with a little battery life on it can try that way. Otherwise, you’re right.”

Such blind spots are perilous to the public, experts say. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell did reference during a news conference Monday two useful phone numbers — 211 for guidance on emergency shelter locations and 511 for traffic information — and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told News Channel 8 that people should call 311 in storm-related emergencies.

But that’s about it for public information of this type.

To read more, visit: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1012/83024.html#ixzz2ApVVy4yE

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