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Social Media & Indianapolis Explosion

By Erin Sparks
December 13, 2012

Social Media Used to Mobilize Volunteers after Indianapolis Explosion

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The November 10th explosion in the Richmond Hills neighborhood of Indianapolis’ south side was a tragedy of epic proportions. Two lives lost, families displaced with damage estimates eclipsing $4.4 million.

Within minutes of the explosion, nearby residents began to communicate via Twitter as to the cause and enormity of the situation. Speculation on the cause included aircraft, methlabs and gas stations. The hashtag #indyboom was established as a way for Twitter users to monitor news and information. The term #indyboom was used in tweets over 3,800 times as users exchanged information regarding the disaster. Since the source of the explosion was unknown at the time, #indyboom was used to describe what was experienced by those who had felt or heard the explosion. Some felt the term was insensitive, however and #indyexplosion was developed to direct internet traffic. #indyboom and #indyexplosion collectively received nearly 6,000 social mentions in the 24 hour period following the Richmond Hills explosion.

To assist in facilitating information distribution, an organization known as the Christian Emergency Network (CEN) set into motion a communication initiative to forward verified news and information obtained directly from first responder authorities.

CEN was formed after the terrorist attacks of 9-11 as a way to respond to any emergency situation by partnering with Homeland Security and other authorities to provide accurate and actionable information. CEN’s communication and collaborative network consists of thousands of churches, Christian ministries and media organizations offer prayer and a ministry response to emergency situations while disseminating information though their communication channels.

Locally, the emergency effort was spearheaded through @readyindy, a network of over 100 pastors and leaders who are trained to mobilize, pray for and assist with emergency situations.
Neil Cox (@indychristian) and Ben McCann (@catalist4182) through the @readyindy network established a communications table at the staging area located at a nearby school and communicated needs in cooperation with the Red Cross and local agencies.

“These connections and social-media communications haven’t just happened overnight — some of us have been decidedly intentional about laying citywide communication tracks throughout the Greater Indianapolis area, urban and suburban” Neil Cox Explained, “in order to effectively help the church of Jesus Christ do a better, more collaborative job of conveying the good news among our friends and neighbors. And it’s why we’re motivated to help our neighbors on zero dollars. So the ROI (return on investment) of social-media at creating a paradigm shift is like a Zillion% rate-of-return!”

Communication Timeline Following the EXPLOSION

Both Cox and McCann have received extensive training through CERT, which the Community Emergency Response Team, a program which educates individuals on disaster preparedness. In addition to setting up communications and operations, they were able to meet the needs of the families affected by the disaster. Much of their efforts throughout the night consisted of prayer, conversation, caring for pets and assisting with the physical and emotional needs of the victims.

Douglas Karr a nearby resident who assisted with the relief efforts described the efficiency of the @ReadyINDY network. “They had a social media table set up and were tweeting within hours” Karr explained,“These guys ran over and started enlisting the help of social media- It was incredible seeing minute by minute what was happening.”

Similar to the scene in Indianapolis, social media was a key component in information distribution surround hurricane Sandy on the east coast of the United States. Twitter and Facebook networks were utilized to forward vital up to the minute information on evacuations and emergency procedures to residents. As the hurricane hit land, #Sandy was the most used phrase on Twitter as social media users communicated as the situation unfolded.