By Lisa R. RhodesFebruary 19, 2010
More than 1,156 fans logged onto Fort Meade's Facebook page and there were more than 38,000 hits to the Meade TV Web blog as the post community turned to the installation's social media outlets for news updates during the region's two most serious snow storms in more than a century.
From the beginning of the first snow storm on Feb. 5 through Feb. 12, when Installation Commander Col. Daniel L. Thomas ordered normal operations to resume on post, people turned to Facebook, the installation blog and Twitter to find out everything from when power would be restored to their homes to when the streets in their neighborhoods would be plowed.
"People quickly learned that Facebook was a fast and reliable way to get information," said Mary Doyle, chief of media relations for the Fort Meade Public Affairs Office, who updated Facebook daily throughout the week. "People turn to Facebook to get the news, to exchange ideas and to connect with their neighbors."
The community forum fostered by Fort Meade's social network platform is an important aspect of the installation's internal communication plan, said Installation Public Affairs Officer, Chad Jones.
"The best way to ensure all of our residents receive the right information is if social media users take what they get from the installation on places like Facebook and the Blog, and share it with their neighbors who may not have access to it," Jones said.
As of Saturday, the Fort Meade Facebook page had about 2,200 fans, up from about 1,100 just two weeks ago.
Harry Lockley, chief of command information for PAO who oversees the page, said new fans were acquired during each week of inclement weather.
Doyle and Bryan Spann, Meade TV producer, provided almost constant posts to Facebook. Spann also provided updates to the Meade TV Web blog and Twitter.
Doyle said people began posting comments on Facebook after they lost power in their homes during the first weekend of the snow storm.
"People were cold and they wanted to know when the power was coming back on," said Doyle, who remained in constant contact with the installation's Emergency Operations Center to gather information from IAP World Services and Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. regarding the repair of power grids.
Doyle said some people logged on to Facebook from nearby hotels to find out the status of the power in their neighborhoods.
People managed to gain access to the page from their iPhones and laptops that operated on battery power.
"I felt responsible for these people," Doyle said, noting that some Fort Meade residents went without power for up to 36 hours. "We were giving moral support AfaEURo letting them know help was on the way ... that they were not forgotten."
Spann posted information about school closures, weather warning updates and airport closures on the blog and Twitter. He also posted daily releases from Picerne Military Housing to keep people updated about neighborhood center openings.
Throughout both storms, conference calls were held twice every day with the EOC staff, PAO and senior staff from other directorates to keep abreast of changing conditions on and off the installation and their impact on the community.
Spann said the use of social media is critical. "In the days before social media, getting this kind of information out to the public would have been difficult," he said. "But as soon as we got the official word about something, we were able to pass it along almost immediately."
During this time, people turned to the installation's social media outlets to inquire about whether the PX or commissary were open and if groceries were available; when neighborhood streets would be plowed; when the Child Development Centers would be open; and when the installation would be open for people to return to work.
PAO staff provided 96 Facebook posts and added 58 unique threads to the blog during the snow event. Installation staff members answered several personal inquiries and provided updates on road conditions, plowing operations, the daily status of the CDCs, as well as daily news about installation operations.
Despite the problems many people faced during the blizzard, a sense of community was evident on the Web, Doyle said. Many residents posted about opening their homes to neighbors who lost power, offering to let them stay someplace warm while power was restored. Others helped people by shoveling and helping dig out cars and driveways.
The moderators' hope is that the community will stay connected to the post with social media use at times when disaster is not imminent.
"It's important for people to get into the habit of visiting the page before a crisis, so they know it's there when it's needed," Lockley said. "Keeping this vital communication channel open during non-emergencies ensures it will be there when it's most needed."