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Published on October 29th, 2012 | by EJC


Digital Media Mashup: Hurricane Sandy

Dubbed ‘Frankenstorm’ because it was due to hit the East Coast of the US on Halloween, Hurricane Sandy prompted the creation of a swathe of digital maps, apps and big data stories.


The Google Crisis Response map has been reproduced in coverage of the hurricane across the world, including this one from the  ABC in Australia. The map features a range of layers that provide the user with added information including traffic information, storm surge predictions, emergency shelters and evacuation routes and videos from the ground.

Esri created a Public Information Map through its disaster response service. The map, which covers the whole East coast area, includes a comprehensive set of features, with interchangeable base maps such as the Open Street Map, topographical map and digital imagery map. It also has a number of layers allowing the user to superimpose weather warnings, storm surge and precipitation. Social media content from Flickr, YouTube and Twitter is also shown on the map using tags and geo-location.

The Esri website also carries a gallery of maps made by users of its ArcGIS Online platform which includes the FEMA MOTF-Hurricane Sandy Impact Analysis map, the NYC Hurricane Evacuation Zones map, the Red Cross Chapters Assets and Response Activities map and the Inundation Zone map. Some media outlets created their own maps, including:

Social Media

Emergency management authorities in affected states launched a multi-platform social media campaign to alert residents to the dangers and provide preparedness information, reported iDisaster. From Twitter and YouTube to Pinterest and Reddit, these agencies left no platform unturned in the quest to keep over 50 million people safe during the one of the worst storms ever to hit the US.

Media outlets also turned to social media to keep people informed, even as some, such as the Huffington Post, Gawker and BuzzFeed, experienced power outages themselves.

Twitter seemed the platform of choice for emergency authorities and the media as power outages across affected states cut millions off from TV and other forms of communication. Mobile communications devices accounted for a large proportion of social media activity, as evidenced by this infographic by Tweet Archive:


Some of the most viewed twitter streams and hashtags @FEMA@craigatfema@NOAA@RedCross@readydotgov@NHC_Atlantic@usNWSgov, @nationalgridus

#Sandy, #Frankenstorm, #superstorm, #HurricaneSandy, #Flooding, #HowToHelp, #SandySafety, #Sandy Volunteer #HPSandy, #APsuperstorm

Twitter also became a source of images for the media, as well as a verification tool, even as it was being used to spread false rumours and images.

“The Huffington Post wants to hear about your experience. Click on the “add a slide” button and upload a photo or video. Be sure to let us know where the photo was taken, and feel free to add any details you’d like…” The Huffington Post, 30 October, 2012.

Twitter also posted an article on its official blog with tips for using the platform during a crisis, recommended accounts and hashtags to follow and ways of receiving tweets in the event of power and internet failure.


Sandy tweets measured by Topsy

Of course, other social media platforms also played an important role, like this list of Hurricane and Tropical Storm Emergency Resources on Facebook and #Sandy playlists and on YouTube. Verification of user-generated content also took place through a Tumblr blog set up to catalogue the fake Sandy images while Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic, turned a post on the company’s website into a ‘pictorial investigation service’, asking readers to email suspicious photos to him. Myth-busting website set up a similar page.

Photo sharing site Instagram recorded 10 images per second on the 30th of October to the hashtage #sandy and Instacane, an Instagram aggregtor site originally created for Hurricane Irene, was reactivated to post images with Sandy-related tags.

Online forecaster Accuweather organised an online hangout through Google+ on Sunday the 28th of October to answer questions from the public, other news outlets such as NBC Washington and organised similar chats.


News outlets such as the CNN, Yahoo News, NBC News, WNCY, The Daily Beast, ABC Australia and the Guardian used Storify to curate and keep up with the Twitter stream.

Photo: Reeve Jolliffe

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