The Woodward News

Local News

April 25, 2012

Social media playing key role in tornado recovery effort

Woodward, Okla. — Social media has made a huge impact on how people communicate and in the aftermath of the April 15, tornado, Facebook, in particular, has helped people get the information they want and need.

Just hours after the deadly tornado swept through Woodward, a Facebook page titled "Woodward Tornado Info" was up and running, connecting families and helping people with their immediate needs, said Amber Wolanski, an administrator of the Facebook page.

The website gave people a place to help find their loved ones and make sure they were alright. While one woman couldn't send or receive any text messages to tell people she was okay, she was able to get on the social media network and inform everyone she was safe, Wolanski said.

"It's really given an opportunity to let everyone know exactly what's going on," she said.

The page was originally created by the people who created the Joplin tornado information page after they learned Woodward needed their help, Wolanski said. They immediately began getting information out onto the website to help victims of the tornado.

Wolanski said within 24 hours the organizers were asking her and Lindsey Snider-Scotney to take over and become primary administrators because they are Woodward natives and knew what was going on, who to call and when someone referenced something they knew what they were talking about.

"We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. It's really a blessing, it's been amazing," she said.

The Woodward Tornado Info page has not only connected families and friends but it has also helped tremendously with the cleanup effort. Staying in touch with city officials and Woodward Emergency Management allowed everyone to see what was needed not only in terms of donations but also where people could volunteer their time to help those in need.

"Really social media was crucial in the cleanup effort. It's been about one week and the town is pretty well cleaned up," Wolanski said.

Matt Lehenbauer, emergency management director, agreed.

"It has been an absolute godsend for recruiting volunteers," Lehenbauer said.

The Office of Emergency Management has had a Twitter account for about 2 years and a Facebook page for about a year. Both sites have helped keep people informed and helped organize the recovery efforts.

"We've been able to rapidly fill needs in just a minute or an hour or 2. It's been phenomenal in recovery," he said.

Lehenbauer said the ReadyWoodward Matt Facebook page has allowed people to communicate within the community and let others know if they have items they want to donate and can take care getting those donations to the family, which helps take some work off of the emergency management office.

"Social media is really just starting to take off in popularity and we're definitely going to continue using it in Woodward County. My only problem is that it's been too popular and finding time with all the other issues and keeping up with Facebook has been difficult," he said.

Lehenbauer said there are plans to have a social media emergency team to help in case of another disaster. He said they may take volunteers who like to be on Facebook and are good with computers to help down the road.

Wolanski said while a lot of people check out Lehenbauer's Facebook page, he is going to have to shift his focus from what everyone's immediate needs are back to his job as director of emergency management.

The focus of the Woodward Tornado Info page will be shifting as well, Wolanski said they will begin working on building additional pages as well as helping with fundraising efforts to get the city back on its feet.

"It's going to take a lot to rebuild what we have," she said. "Our goal is to do more fundraisers and connect with bigger organizations to raise more money for Woodward."

To view the Woodward Tornado info page visit https://www.facebook.com/#!/woodwardtornadoinfo. To view Matt Lehenbauer's emergency management page visit https://www.facebook.com/#!/readywoodward.

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