Global Social Media Insights and Research

Social Innovation: Sandy Creates a Storm of Disaster Relief

Posted on 14 November 2012

When Hurricane Sandy was making its way to greater New York City on October 29, Occupy Sandy – an off-shoot of the Occupy Wall Street – was born and at the ready to spearhead the provision of disaster relief supplies to the beleaguered communities of Coney Island, Long Island, Red Hook, the Rockaways, and Staten Island.

Unencumbered by Federal laws restricting such government agencies as FEMA from aiding churches (a core resource central to many of the affected communities) and lacking the bureaucratic red tape of Red Cross, Occupy Sandy launched into action just as the hurricane made landfall. The OWS offspring also is responsible for calling out these agencies for negligent humanitarian aid in severely affected areas.

Unfettered by legalities and paperwork, Occupy Sandy is a model for socially local—
or what I call “solocal”—adhoc disaster relief, and a testament to the effective power of social organizing to mitigate hardship and loss during such a global warming disaster. Not only do real-time social intelligence and such monitoring platforms as NetBase (used by this blogger to identify Sandy organizers and drop-off centers) provide vital immediate “triage” by facilitating first responder disaster relief, they also help to identify and unite communities in need of citizen relief initiatives.

In a remarkable showing of social innovation by an erstwhile social movement, social good “sumari-netizens” at large—inspired by the agile resilience and dedication of the Occupy Sandy social network—have been spurred into action, initiating much needed and creative supply chains. As example, the Occupy Sandy Wedding Registry set up at Amazon by Brooklyn residents to solicit donations for shipment to the two Brooklyn churches distributing daily to priority response areas.

On a personal note, I was able to monitor the situation on the ground in my former and now ravaged Red Hook, Brooklyn neighborhood—a 10 minute drive from my current and severely impacted Wall Street area residence—and identify Occupy Sandy collaboration with the Red Hook Initiative relief efforts. By filtering “Red Hook” in NetBase, netizen triage quickly identified the location and condition of cold and isolated seniors and others in need of medical assistance. I also was able to track storm damage updates to a local school, the destruction of a friend’s popular restaurant and fund-raising efforts for both.

Further filtering discovered Red Hook citizens who are influencing cleanup and rebuilding initiatives. Seen through another lens—the hashtag—disaster forensics can provide vital discovery to first responders during a disaster. Lenses like these provide a vital social media roadmap for those on the outside with difficulty in physically entering a zone, as they are able to reveal local efforts and groups to unite disparate relief organizers.

A tribute to the harnessing power of Occupy Sandy and other effective social networks to direct relief efforts and organize community is synthesized by the sheer number of people—514 million—who have read Occupy Sandy posts since the fateful night of the hurricane. The negative sentiment and heightened passion intensity scores in our Occupy Sandy summary tracker reflects the frustration of residents still living in the dark, damp cold of devastated sections of greater New York City, and still waiting for FEMA and other agency help.

If there ever was doubt that innovation can spring from the well of disaster, Occupy Sandy has defied all reservation. But taking heed of Mother Nature, now is the time I must seek the city’s higher ground uptown. For me, living and working in what now looks and feels like the “ground zero” of global warming no longer seems tenable.