Facebook, Twitter are lifelines as tornadoes wallop Texas

People, organizations take to social networks to warn neighbors, offer help

As tornadoes ripped through Texas on Tuesday, hurling tractor-trailer trucks into the air and shredding houses, people took to social networks to warn of advancing storms and to help their neighbors.

About a dozen tornadoes touched down around the Dallas/Fort Worth area Tuesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. Homes were destroyed, vehicles were tossed like toys and thousands are still without power.

As people took shelter and tried to locate loved ones, they also took to social sites like Facebook and Twitter to warn others of tornado touchdowns and advancing storms. Cities put out information about areas to avoid and shelter openings, and people and organizations were quick to post pictures and information about found pets.

It's become a common story: When a crisis strikes, people turn to their favorite social networks to give and receive information.

"As we have seen before, social networking appears to be the best, fastest way to reach large groups of people," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research. "With the ability to monitor Facebook and Twitter on mobile devices, they become very efficient ways of disseminating and finding info. And it's real time so it's the one place you can go and know you can find the info you're looking for."

During Tuesday's storms, the city of Arlington, Texas was tweeting and posting on Facebook about shelters, hotels offering emergency rates and reports of ruptured natural gas lines.

A group called "Lost & Found Pets from North Texas Tornadoes" set up a Facebook page to try to help lost pets find their way back to their families. One woman, for example, used the Facebook page to post a photo of a found female border collie. Another user offered to help people search for their missing pets.

Another group, dubbed DFW Police Scanner, used Twitter to release information about where the storms were headed and where they were touching down. "SPOTTER - TORNADO ON THE GROUND just west of the WalMart in Forney. Seek shelter now!" tweeted @DFWscanner.

And Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport used Twitter to report canceled flights, restaurants that were open at the terminals and where to go for more travel information.

"We had about 12 tornadoes touch down around #DFW yesterday. 100+ aircraft were damaged from hail," tweeted @dfwairport. "If you're in one of our terminals please don't hesitate to let us know if we can be of assistance."

However, organizations weren't the only ones putting up warnings. Individuals like @Brentweets posted, "Tornadoes have hit near Dallas. Police are saying to immediately evacuate to Cowboy Stadium as it is the least likely place for a touchdown."

Texas tornado damaged house
A vehicle rests in the driveway of a home destroyed by a series of tornadoes that ripped through the Dallas suburb of Lancaster, Texas, on Tuesday. As many as a dozen tornadoes skipped through the densely populated Dallas-Fort Worth area, ripping apart homes and tossing tractor-trailer trucks into the air, but there were no reports of serious injuries or deaths. (Photo by Reuters/Tim Sharp)

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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