The end of August saw one of the top 10 most deadly storms the United States has seen since 1980. The message “Dear Irene, Don’t be Mean” was seen written on pieces of plywood used to board up windows and doors in preparation for Hurricane Irene‘s impact. The interesting part of this disaster is the role that social media played in keeping the public informed.

Hurricane IreneFirst of all, Hurricane Irene met @irene, who happens to work for a social media marketing company in New York City. From reading her former Tweets, Irene Tien really sounds like a nice, down-to-earth girl. When people first began Tweeting to her, she simply Tweeted back, “Btw, tweeting @irene doesn’t deliver any messages to the hurricane. Sorry.”

Although she describes herself as “pretty much the opposite of a hurricane,” Tien reluctantly and temporarily allowed her co-workers to take over her Twitter account and post light updates regarding the storm. So, while the real Irene was vacationing in LA, her co-workers posted Tweets such as, “Wow, rough night hanging out off the Carolina coast. I still feel like I’ve got a bad case of the spins,” and, “Jets vs. Giants preseason game moved to Monday? I was hoping to make it! Mark Sanchez is so dreamy!”

While some people thinkHurricane Irene that Irene Tien was just doing this for a publicity trick in order to get more followers, Tien stated that she was really hesitant about allowing her co-workers to take over her account because she didn’t want all the negative publicity. She has since claimed her account again, although random @irene messages are still being sent her way.

On a more serious note, the @irene campaign was a great way for people to know how to prepare for the natural disaster and where to get assistance. Tweets regarding bridge closings, weather services, and mobile services in case of emergency populated @irene’s feed. Even Tweets from Mike Bloomberg, NYC’s governor, showed up on @irene’s page informing people where shelter was and when they should remain indoors.

This is a great example of the power of social media. Hurricane Irene was indeed a terrible storm, but in the words of Irene Tien, “If my ‘tweets’ and all of your ‘retweets’ led to helping someone somewhere in some small way, it was worth all the effort…”

Jamie Bates