Thousands Turn to Facebook for Info During Snow Storm

By Stephanie Parkinson - 21Alive

January 9, 2014 Updated Jan 9, 2014 at 7:19 PM EDT

ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (21Alive) It's been decades since we've seen weather like we have this week, but decades ago one thing we didn't have was social media.

During this storm, more than 62,000 people turned to Allen County's Facebook page for answers.

"I really saw that message take off through the cloud, if you will, pretty rapidly and saturated the marketplace much more so, and much cheaper than the biggest system I could buy here for Allen County," said Bernie Beier, Director, Allen County Homeland Security.

A reverse call system to alert people of a state of emergency would come with a 100,000 and 140,000 dollar price tag for Allen County. And Beier actually thinks social media is more effective.

"It's not one way communication from the government to the public, it's the public's information and it's a thread that we're joining, that we jump into, get out of, re-correct, and that's what I saw in this snow emergency," said Beier. "Not waiting for the 5 o'clock news, the the 6 o'clock news, or the 11 o'clock news, but understanding that information now travels about as quick as your thumbs can move."

And those thumbs...can move pretty quickly. The problem is, government entities often have several chains of command that information must go through before it's made public...Beier admits, that poses challenges in using social media to communicate with the public...even in emergencies.

"That's really normal in a government bureaucracy, if you will. And that's not how social media works," said Beier.

Beier says the numbers speak for themselves. Social media is working, but he thinks it can work even better for government bodies.

"What I really think it is, is it's governments ability to recognize the change, and understand what we're doing, and what we need to do different today from what we did five or ten years ago," said Beier.

It's a change that's started, and Beier hopes social media's role will continue to grow within government.

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