Updated Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
You don't have to go too far from home — or may not be able to — to find out what you need to know about Hurricane Irene, or to connect with the people you care about. Facebook and Twitter have a lot of help to offer, as they have in previous disasters. Here are some handy starting points:
— Check the state resources page with direct website links to emergency departments of the states affected by Irene, although bear in mind, as of late Friday, a few were missing. "Please post Maryland and New York as soon as you can!" wrote one person on the "wall." (Here are those two states' emergency websites: New York and Maryland.)
— The American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency also have their own Facebook pages.
— The federal Department of Homeland Security page, which includes information such as this: "Find a shelter: Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362. Relay this message via text to family & friends impacted that might have lost power."
— The Global Disaster Relief page is meant to be a "hub for preparedness, response and relief information," which will be continually updated, said a Facebook spokesman.
On Saturday, Facebook also added two new tabs on that page: "One is a Resource Center and the other is a 'Share Your Story' tab that lets people share how they've used Facebook to prepare, respond, provide relief," said a Facebook spokesman.
— Hurricane Irene Community page is a kind of blog-style newsfeed of storm-related news.
— The National Weather Service page for forecasts and hurricane tracking.
— The FBI, on its Facebook page, reminds folks "to beware of fraudulent e-mails and websites claiming to conduct charitable relief efforts. Disasters prompt individuals with criminal intent to solicit contributions purportedly for a charitable organization or a good cause," and suggests reading "Tips on Avoiding Fraudulent Charitable Contribution Schemes" to learn more about avoiding online fraud.
Facebook has also created a tip sheet for how to better use your personal settings before, during and after a disaster. Among the recommendations: After a disaster, let your friends and family know you're all right by going to the Red Cross' Safe and Well site.
From that site you can update your Facebook and Twitter status to let your loved ones and friends know that you are safe. Alert those in your social networking circles of your status. A quick post of “I’m ok” or using the hashtag #imok will be sufficient.
You can use the hashtag #irene to follow any tweets about the storm. (Try not to confuse # and @ — @irene is not a tropical cyclone, she's a person.)
Also check the always-changing "trending" list on Twitter's home page to see what new hashtags have cropped up that may be of help or of interest. Among those that were trending on Saturday, for example: #East Coast, #NYIrene and #IrenePets.
Twitter's "Fast Follow" feature for phones.
Here are some recommended Twitter accounts to follow, as suggested by the short-messaging blog, which limits posts to 140 characters:
— @twc_hurricane: The Weather Channel’s hurricane central account shares the latest updates on Irene’s location.
— @NYCMayorsOffice: Official info for New Yorkers on evacuations, transportation and more.
— @FEMA and @CraigatFEMA: Preparation tips and the latest updates on Hurricane #Irene. FEMA also has a Twitter page here.
— American Red Cross Twitter page; @RedCross
— The Humane Society of the United States is on Twitter, as well, with up-to-date info on pet and animal assistance.
Twitter also suggests a few text-message features you might want to put into place on your phone before Irene arrives, so that you can still get information if you wind up losing power or mobile Internet:
Fast Follow: Use this feature as "the quickest way to begin receiving updates from a Twitter source on your mobile device. You do not need to sign up for a Twitter account in order to receive updates directly to your mobile phone. For example, to follow FEMA (@fema), all you need to do is text ‘follow fema’ to 40404" in the United States. You can do the same with any Twitter account by sending the text message of "Follow (username)" to 40404. You can learn more about Fast Follow here.
Set SMS alerts: "From your computer, wherever you see a user on Twitter.com, you can hover over their name or avatar, and click on the phone icon that appears in the hovercard. Whenever they tweet, you'll get it as an SMS message on your phone."
You can learn more about Fast Follow and Set SMS Alerts here.
Both Twitter and Facebook are incredibly valuable during times like these; be sure to take advantage of what they have to offer.
"Wherever and whenever disaster strikes, we are reminded of the Internet’s critical role in connecting the world’s population," said a Facebook spokesman Friday. "Just as millions of people flocked to Facebook after recent earthquakes devastated Haiti and Japan and tornadoes ripped across the Midwest, people are once again using our platform to prepare for Hurricane Irene as it barrels toward the East Coast."
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