Remember Hurricane Katrina in 2005? I wasn’t very old, but I can vividly recall the sweeping devastation on the TV, and the concerned tone in my parents’ voices as they talked about it. I remember the humanitarian trips for months and months afterwards to help with the cleanup.

As Texas and the country navigates Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, I can’t help remembering those days in 2005. And realizing that, as much as we are still lacking information and infrastructure for Harvey, it’s incredible how far we’ve come in our comprehension of disasters in the past 12 years.

Since I’m a millennial working for a tech company, of course I’m thinking about this from the perspective of technology and social media. A lot has changed between then and now (I didn’t even have a Facebook account until 2007…). Some of those differences are staring me in the face as I scroll through a newsfeed full of photos, videos, and stories.

The Whole Picture

“It will be harder to be slow on the uptake with this one,” said an experienced weather news reporter in an interview with Poynter. He was talking about Harvey versus Katrina.

During Katrina it was difficult early in the disaster to understand how widespread the disaster really was. With Harvey, that’s just not the case. We know where and when and how bad the storm is. In this case, knowledge is most certainly power.

How? Well, it’s mostly due to social media. We don’t have to wait for a news crew with a van parked behind a beach-side hotel to broadcast from their semi-transportable camera. Instead, we have real-time footage and real-life photos from all over the affected area.

A Phone-Call Away

Chances are you saw this picture in the last couple of days.

One of the women trapped in the nursing home sent the photo to her son—he posted it on Twitter hoping they could be evacuated. They were.

There are many stories like this one. So many people have been reaching out on social media for help that local law enforcement is concerned. (The nature of social media is quick turn-around—the calls for help are likely to get missed in all the posting.) The Coast Guard asked that they call 911 instead. The problem? The lines are busy, and phone batteries are running out of power. So people have gotten creative. Google docs where people can enter their information and have other people call in the emergency, Reddit live threads of information and emergency reports, and plenty of other methods.

The Global Village

When I think about the “global village,” my mind goes back to President Roosevelt’s Fireside chats. They were a time when the whole country sat down together to listen to what was happening in the country and the world.

We don’t have fireside chats anymore. We have instant global connection. And the more immediate and complete our knowledge, the more immediate and complete our response can be.

There are dozens of Go Fund Me campaigns raising money to help the victims (more social media…), the Cajun Navy has mobilized and people are overall very aware and eager to help.

It’s not that there’s a change in human decency so much as there’s a change in our awareness.

If you want to find out more about how you can help those affected by Hurricane Harvey, check out this link.

These are only some of the ways social media has changed our experience of and response to national disasters. What changes have you noticed?