12+ tools and resources useful during hurricanes and other disasters


After a quiet summer, hurricane season seems to have awoken with a vengeance.

Three hurricanes are churning in the Atlantic, and at least one seems likely to make a destructive landfall on the United States. At the same time, the Pacific is also oddly active.

We know this script. On this day last year, I was working remotely from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, after a grueling 19-hour evacuation from Florida. I was one of the millions of Floridians fleeing Hurricane Irma, then poised to strike Florida as a category four or five hurricane.

A handful of tools and resources made our preparation, evacuation, coverage and recovery a little bit easier and more complete. I shared some of them in this newsletter last year, but following is an updated list with additional resources and context.

If you’re not in the hurricane zones of the world, note that many of these tools are handy for any type of natural or manmade disaster. I hope you never have to use them.

EYEWITNESS PHOTOS AND VIDEOS: As Irma approached the Caribbean last year, live videos from locations like the Turks and Caicos Islands demonstrated the hurricane’s strength. These videos can show conditions on the ground and add important context through imagery. In Irma’s case, they served as an effective warning to those in its path.

  • The Facebook Live Map plots public live videos by location, making relevant streams easy to find. They are embeddable, so audiences don’t have to leave your website to watch, and recorded for later viewing by default.
  • Snap Map displays public Snaps and Snap Stories based on location. Snaps tend to be rawer than livestreams. Like Facebook Live, Snap Map content is embeddable. But unlike embeds from Twitter or Facebook, which work as long as the original content remains published, Snap Map embeds disappear after 30 days. To those on the ground looking to provide videos and imagery through Snapchat, consider another tool unless you have power or large battery backups — the app has a tendency to be a battery suck.

CROWDSOURCING: Whether you’re trying to provide a service to your audience or gather images and information, crowdsourcing is a powerful way to extend your reporting. Miami-based The New Tropic and South Florida NPR station WLRN teamed up during Irma and used Ushahidi to crowdsource information about supplies and preparation. Then, as the storm struck, the team crowdsourced damage. All of this appeared on an easy-to-use interactive map.

COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS: Nextdoor, the social network that aims to connect you with your weird neighbor who sits on his porch with beer and binoculars, can be super handy during a disaster. During Irma, mine included helpful posts from my county government, offers of help from neighbors with generators and weirdly comprehensive lists of damage. Some of these might prove to be great sources for stories before or after a disaster. You have to verify your address, which can take a few days, so try to sign up before you need to use it. Of course, local news stations will always have the most pertinent and trustworthy information for your area. Many, like the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, choose to drop their paywalls during disasters.

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