Living and working in Eastern PA, traveling to DC and NY for work, and vacationing in NJ, it is hard to resist writing about Hurricane Sandy this week.

While areas of the Lehigh Valley were primarily affected by massive power outages, destructive wind gusts of up to 81 mph, fallen trees, and some rain, we’re still very aware of the heavy damages Hurricane Sandy caused in other nearby areas, thanks to news stations and the Internet.

Television broadcast news were helpful… if you had power. The next best thing (or maybe this was a first-choice) was the cell phone… or cell phone/computer/camera/post-er/news source/lifeline. If your WiFi or 3/4G signals weren’t compromised, you could stay connected — calling or texting friends and family with updates and whereabouts, scrolling through your preferred news station’s mobile website, or reading the “news” and personal statuses on Facebook or Twitter.

As a Communication major and 21st century twenty-something, I am certainly familiar with the magnitude, positives, negatives, functions, and power of social media.

My first bold-faced, first-hand interaction with the relationship between the Internet/social media and natural disasters occurred this week. I personally witnessed just how BIG a role social media and WiFi connections play in dire scenarios of our lives (in other words, not just daily Facebook or Twitter posts or double-tapping your favorite “lunch food” photo on Instagram).

Although I miraculously didn’t lose power during or after the superstorm, I was still constantly connected…which then showed me how constantly connected – and “vitally-attached” — others were (and continue to be). Other people – whether they were Lehigh Valleyans who lost power for days or New Jerseyans who lost homes and more – needed the WiFi tie, needed to stay in touch with friends and family, online news bits, or to post pictures of their homes, lives, or areas of destruction… all in real-time.

Even the television news broadcasters (like our local news crew WFMZ 69News) asked for people (on-site, civilian “reporters”) to send in, post, or tweet photos to the newsrooms so they could share it on the TV news.

I even learned from this article that people needed social media and the Internet to report emergencies. According to the article, the 911 system of Manhattan was incredibly congested, with over 10,000 calls per hour; New Yorkers then turned to social media to post pictures and statuses of emergencies in order to attract help. I had never heard of this use prior to this storm – a use that is so intriguing and beautiful at the same time.

Social media served as a real-time news reporter before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy.

I was able to see what friends in New Jersey were first-hand experiencing thanks to picture and text posts on Facebook; follow Eastern PA Weather Authority on Facebook to get the most up-to-date weather news; keep up with live picture feeds from Facebook friends and their re-posts, or even through the hashtag “#hurricanesandy” on Instagram, peering in on the experiences of people I have never spoken to or knew existed.

It’s pretty phenomenal.

Kashmir Hill of Forbes wrote a great web article on the topics of social media’s impact and dependence during Hurricane Sandy, its role in modern-day, real-time civilian news-reporting, as well as the caution necessary while approaching “facts” or “news” on the forums. “…when seeking information there, be skeptical,” Hill wisely advises.

Since social media is not policed or held to the same standards as prestigious, established news broadcasters, it requires the critical exercise of skepticism and “common sense-ism.”

Not only does this instantaneous, thorough method of informing the masses help make people aware of current events (and help practice their healthy doses of Internet discretion), but it also helps conjure the emotional, proximal, human aspects of natural disasters.

“Turning to social media sources is reassuring in times like these. Information moves faster there and is more immediate. You see events through the eyes of people experiencing them rather than through a (professional journalist) intermediary,” wrote Hill in her article.

The raw, real-time “reporting”/posting via social media and Internet news sources speaks to business as much as it speaks to daily life and community emergencies. It demonstrates how interactive, integrated, and imperative social media is to modern life.

If you still aren’t convinced of how social media can amplify your business, just click around, or Google “Hurricane Sandy social media;” you might not be a weatherman or a tropical storm, but it’s vibrant how effective this method of communication is. Are you still debating on the impact and effectiveness of social media for your business? 😉

–by Katherine De Menno of Sahl Communications

Sahl Communications wishes everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy the safest and warmest road to recovery.