Irma Was A Social Media Storm






I remember wandering through a badly damaged downtown Pensacola with a pocket full of dimes searching for a working phone booth to call the City Desk.

That was covering a hurricane 40 years ago.

Forget all that. Forget the paid journalists, the crusty editors and waiting for them to tell you the news about a hurricane.

During Irma all a storm survivor needed was a cell phone and working Internet connection.

Irma was a social media hurricane.

“Social media was amazing. It was the driving force informing residents,” Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine said.

Udine’s Facebook video feed featured interviews with Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie, Florida Power & Light folks and others. They were instructive and useful.

No, Udine didn’t ask tough questions. Still, his feed drew over 33,000 views during Irma.


Michael Udine’s Facebook feed


Udine wasn’t alone.

Mayor Josh Levy of Hollywood scored an interview with FPL CEO Eric Silagy to report first hand on restoring power.

Mayor Jack Seiler of Fort Lauderdale also kept residents informed hour-by-hour of the progress of turning the lights back on. Seiler posted some videos shot by others, but I would have liked to see Seiler make his own live broadcasts.

A lot of politicians didn’t get it.

They used social media to promote themselves rather than inform residents. They posted grin-and-grab shots with others in the Emergency Center or handing out food.

They were campaigning not helping!

But who needs them. Thousands of residents posted pictures and live feeds of their neighborhoods ravaged by the storm.

I saw live videos of people finding poisonous snakes in their yards. A picture recounted the rescue of a big turtle battered by Irma.

Others discussed their damage, lack of electricity or where to get gas.

In addition to Facebook, many communities now have their own websites. Nextdoor was particularly helpful, featuring neighbors discussing what was happening in my city, in my neighborhood and on my block.

Waze, the site that builds a community out of those on the roads, helped me through the hours stuck on the Interstate during the evacuation. It was a chat room, informing drivers what exits were closed, where to get gas and even what restrooms were open. Plus it contained plenty of attitude and humor.

The site kept us company through the long drive.

Working with a depleted staff, newspapers and broadcast TV were clearly outgunned by the citizens on the Internet.

Weather news could be obtained quicker from the National Hurricane Center or the Hurricane Tracker app. Recovery news was all over our iPhones first.

Old Media had a warmed over feel.

The Miami Herald came back on Sunday after the storm with a terrific piece on how overdevelopment may have complicated the evacuation from the storm. The Sun-Sentinel had four good columns on the hurricane in the Sunday paper. Dave Hyde did particularly compelling work through Irma.

Yet overall, the Old Media appeared sorely dated. Old Media seemed about as relevant as an umbrella in a hurricane.

As a former newspaper journalist remembering all those hurricanes I covered, that makes me sad.




10 Responses to “Irma Was A Social Media Storm”

  1. City activist Robert Walsh says:

    Yes i agree alot of elected officals were campaigning during all of this.Totally agree.I also thought the sunsentinel local reporters did a great job as well.Also this rumor that Mayor Seiler attempted to delay power to Ft.lau is a bunch of bs.I just want an explanation why he held a budget hearing on Sept13.Well???.


    Good question. Why was the budget hearing held at the same time a storm was threatening. Perhaps because it was advertised and they didn’t have time to readvertise it.

  2. What is worse says:

    Agreed, the politicians who used the storm for self promotion was in poor taste. What is worse are the elected officials who refuse to use social media at all. How can an elected official refuse to use the easiest way to communicate with the most constituents? It makes one to wonder if these elected were even in town or what they were doing to help post Irma, if anything.

  3. City activist Robert Walsh says:

    It could have been rescheduled.And then readvertized.Plenty of dates could have been used before Oct.1.

  4. The worst says:

    Nothing like elected officials like Judge Nina DiPeitro putting up pictures of themelves having fun in Europe while people were struggling through aftermath of the storm. No problem if you had the means to escape the storm in luxury,pretty tone deaf to put up pics of your good times while others are back here trying to survive. In the end at least she udid the right thing at deleted the pics off her FB page.

    Look at the comment on Sept 12 at 1158 am

  5. Joel Fass says:

    Byron Jaffee did an excellent job of keeping Weston residents advised of what was and wasn’t happening in our city. He is to be commended!!

  6. Just the facts says:

    Yes, and speaking of “using” social media, Jay Schwartz, a commissioner from Pembroke Pines, posted on Facebook, on Tuesday Sept 5th:

    “…Don’t forget that I can provide home inspection services and mold inspection services post storm in the event that you need them. We can provide an independent assessment of any damage prior to the insurance adjusters coming out to your house.”

    After promoting his business, he left town the next day and didn’t come back until after the storm!! Bulk trash pickup in his district was never done before the storm, even though he had assured residents it would happen. But since he’s been back he’s been doing live videos a couple of times a day to overcompensate for the fact that he wasn’t even here!

  7. Pissed off says:

    My husband and me still have no power in Jay Shwartz district Pines.And somebody say he left town in his airplane before the storm.I think a reporter ask him that. We are old people that cant handle this heat and he goes off in this storm meanwhile my friends son in Silver Lakes has power for days. If this is true we shoud delete him from office. Thats all I have to say.

  8. Former S-S staffer says:

    Good point about newspapers being clueless in the age of social media. Did it occur to them that social media is a wonderful source for updating their stories in real time with news, photos and videos? Or that TV weathermen could have provided them with much more detailed analysis on Irma’s path than the overly cautious Hurricane Center? The traditional role of a newspaper is to be the gatekeeper for important information. In the 21st century, that means it should scour the Web and make sense of what’s there so that you don’t have to.

  9. J Prof says:

    I give survey journalism students at the beginning of each semester to find out how many read or watch broadcast television, broadcast radio, newspapers and magazines. The amount has been decreasing every year since I started the surveys. A majority of these university students can not name the daily newspaper in their community. They have that little familiarity with the publication. When asked what Internet sites they use for news, these student almost never mention any of what you call Old Media. This calls into question the hope of publishers and broadcasters that the Internet is their salvation. How can it be their salvation, when the consumers of tomorrow do not even know their names and have no familiarity with them?

  10. Leaders who run away says:

    This leader left town, tried to give the impression she was right there… sound familiar??

    USF leader resigns after fleeing Hurricane Irma

    ST. PETERSBURG — As the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus was preparing for a hit from Hurricane Irma, its leader suggested to her boss in an email that she was still there when she had actually fled to Atlanta, a newspaper reported.

    Sophia Wisniewska, regional chancellor for the Tampa-based university, negotiated a resignation Monday as university officials were set to fire her for incompetence and “lack of leadership.”

    Wisniewska insinuated to her boss via emails that she remained on campus as Irma approached, even noting that things were quiet and she could hear the birds chirping there — but she was really in Atlanta, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

    She defended herself Monday. In a text message, she told the Times, “I strongly reject any question of my leadership during Irma.”

    Judy Genshaft, president of the USF system, canceled classes Sept. 6 as Irma appeared to be headed elsewhere, but she kept the dorms open in both Tampa and St. Petersburg on Florida’s Gulf coast. Wisniewska says she wanted to close the St. Petersburg campus, but was overruled because evacuations had not been ordered.

    The next night, Irma’s track shifted west, elevating the danger for students. Officials said Genshaft expected Wisniewska to adjust to the changes, even though there were still no county-issued evacuation orders.

    Instead the chancellor pushed back when asked to close the dorms. She wanted legal advice about her authority to order students to leave.

    On Monday, Genshaft wrote, “I expect a competent regional chancellor to be able to process this weather information and respond to the evolving emergency.” Genshaft wrote that the issue isn’t “legal authority,” but “it is leadership competence in an emergency situation.”

    The 10 remaining students in the dorms were ordered out on the morning of Sept. 9.

    The university president emailed Wisniewska on Sept. 9, asking if she’d walked around the campus, and wanted to know the status of those remaining on campus. She also inquired about Wisniewska’s “current status as you settle in for the next couple of days.”

    According to emails in Wisniewska’s personnel file, the chancellor responded late that night, saying she heard more birds chirping than students talking as she walked around the campus. In the email she noted that she talked to a student who was studying for a test and peeked into a campus tavern before it closed for the weekend.

    Wisniewska never told Genshaft that she was leaving Florida, according to the newspaper.

    On Sept. 10, Wisniewska emailed that she arrived in Atlanta the night before and planned to stay for two days.

    In her resignation letter, she noted that she left only after closing the dorms and making sure the staff was ready. She said she had “her finger on the pulse of the campus through the storm and as it weakened.” She said she held a teleconference with staff to discuss damage before chartering a private plane to return.

    “The actual facts are that I exercised sound judgment at all times, led my team successfully, communicated continuously, and most importantly, put the safety of students first,” Wisniewska wrote.

    According to the agreement, she’ll vacate her post immediately. She’ll be paid her current salary of $265,000 for 60 days. After that, she’ll be converted to faculty salary rate until May 1 when she will leave the school.