New York gets pretty heavy, girl, I hope it doesn’t crush you.
In hindsight, I did not handle the hurricane well.
Superstorm Sandy was my first experience as a social media manager during a disaster. WQXR, the classical music station I work at, is the sister station of WNYC, New York’s public radio station. During the storm, WNYC worked tirelessly to keep people informed.
“Radio stations, one of the most reliable sources of information for people without power, were also impeded by flooding on Monday. Two news radio stations, WNYC and WINS, lost their AM frequencies but continued to broadcast on FM. WNYC’s transmitter ‘is in a swamp, and it’s flooded,’ said Laura R. Walker, the chief executive of New York Public Radio, which operates the station. She added the organization had anticipated the power failure and warned listeners ahead of time. The station’s Lower Manhattan studio lost power on Monday night. But a backup generator kicked in immediately and coverage was not stopped.” — Storm Sends News Media Scrambling, The New York Times
It was WQXR’s job to stay on the air and provide a calming respit from non-stop storm news. Instead of going to pre-recorded programming, hosts and the music directors came into the office in order to be a live voice of information and reassurance between the music. My job was to monitor social media channels and relay WNYC’s updates to our listeners. I spent Oct. 27 to Nov. 4 glued to my computer, eyes darting across multiple Twitter feeds, alternating keeping an ear between WQXR and WNYC (and alternating between coffee and whiskey, as day turned to night).
I also live in Zone A in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a mandatory evacuation zone. I live on the first floor two blocks from Newtown Creek, a toxic body of water that was already flooding by the morning before the storm hit full-force. I evacuated six blocks away to a friend’s apartment where I could keep an eye on what was happing in my neighborhood.
I came home Tuesday morning to very thankfully find no water in my apartment, despite seeing this terrifying photo from the boutique hotel a couple doors down the street. Our basement did flood and knock out the hot water heater, a small, barely noticeable inconvenience for a couple days. I do, though, worry about the toxic residue that may still be down there.
During the storm, I, perhaps foolishly, ventured out to take photos of what I saw. After working at newspapers for 10 years, old habits die-hard. I tweeted and Instagramed them, tagging #Greenpointers (the neighborhood blog) and #Sandy. I relayed them to WNYC’s crowd-sourced Storify page.
PJ Vogt at WNYC’s On the Media spent the storm documenting the coverage and communication on social media and he and I, who only live several blocks apart, came away with a similar sense of community built during the storm.
BOB GARFIELD: So, in general, this experience, this total Twitter immersion during Sandy, did, did it yield any surprises, disappointments, revelations, heartbreak?
PJ VOGT: This is a little embarrassing, ‘cause I think a lot of people [LAUGHS] knew this already, but for me using it during the storm was the first time I’d understood the sense of community that people get specifically from this platform. At this point, my street flooded with waist-high water and a dumpster just floated past me. And I took a picture of it and I tweeted it out, and I was just expressing something. I didn’t really know who I was talking to. And over the next 20 minutes, I got I think like 10 to 20 messages from people asking me follow-up questions, telling me to be safe. They were people that I’d never met, and they were my neighbors.
BOB GARFIELD: Oh. I’m a little – I’m verklempt.
PJ VOGT: I just wanted to make you feel something, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Am I not but flesh and blood, PJ –
Perhaps because of my incessant tweeting, people living in my neighborhood began asking me, via Twitter, for status updates on what was and wasn’t flooded in north Greenpoint and if the Pulaski Bridge was open.
@knowacki Thanks for sharing this. I live 200 feet away and had no idea. Now I’m keeping an eye on my basement. Think it’s receding.
— Burke Wilmore (@burkewilmore) October 30, 2012
For the days leading up to and after the storm, I slept in the living room on the couch with the computer at my head. The power at the station was out and everything was running on a generator, which meant all those who could work from home, should. I made myself take walks every so often (and a shower now and then when the hot water came back on) as to not go totally cross-eyed and brain-fried at obsessively consuming so much media.
After a week sequestered at home, I felt shaky and stir-crazy and the fear of the storm was now giving way to the immense severity of its destruction. It’s bad. Really bad.
But as crazy as I drove myself staring at the ever-shifting columns of Tweetdeck, I also took comfort in the messages people were sending to WQXR. People without power and heat, but with battery-operated radios and a cell phone, took the time to tell us we were their calm during the storm. Those simple gestures, were what finally brought me to tears.
iPad fully charged, crank-powered flashlight/radio pre-tuned to WQXR. All ready to read in the dark if the power goes out again.
— Rachel Anne (@ForceBard) October 29, 2012
So glad to know that WQXR is still going through this storm.Now let’s hope my internet doesn’t die, or something. — Julie McMillan (@gershwinlove) October 29, 2012
— May Torbatnejad (@Mtorbat) October 29, 2012
Listening to NYPhil on my tansistor radio in the dark. Thank u WQXR for restoringmy sanity on day 4 of Sandy — Stephen Fleming (@FlemingStephen) November 2, 2012
No power or heat but at least I could get #WQXR on my battery powered radio.
— Lee Knuth (@Violetcatlover) November 1, 2012
I love you WQXR. I’m so happy you didn’t abandon me during the hurricane. — Kim Gendreau (@arachnesweave) October 31, 2012
@wqxr Before the power went out I had my viola, bourbon and the late Beethoven quartets. Hell yes!
— Gouverneur Morris (@GoverneurMorris) November 2, 2012