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Social Snow? Social media for emergency management 

 Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee used Twitter to update citizens on road conditions and provide a behind-the-scenes look at public works employees during February's snow storm. Pictured is Charlotte's Deputy Street Superintendent Ken Martin frrom Carlee's Twitter feed. Photo credit: Ron Carlee
It’s been a crazy year for winter weather across the state. While North Carolina didn’t experience record amounts of snow and ice, the unexpected timing of the storms left many towns in a state of emergency.

February’s storm brought traffic to a standstill around the state and became known as Snowpocalypse. A woman’s photo of the mayhem in Raleigh even went viral on social media and traditional news outlets. However, North Carolina’s municipal officials made sure mayhem wasn’t the only thing trending on social media.

Creedmoor Mayor Darryl Moss and Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee agreed using social media allowed them to communicate emergency procedures and ensure help was where it was needed most during the storm. While they used different platforms, both officials had positive outcomes.

Carlee, who’s been city manager since April 2013, tweeted a warning to not go out in Charlotte’s dangerous conditions – then he went out. For the duration of the storm, Carlee tweeted pictures of the city updating citizens on what roads were bad and the public works employees braving the cold to keep Charlotte safe.

His pictures attracted hundreds of new followers and local journalists who used his updates in their news reports.

“There is a lot of useless stuff on social media, but I have found Twitter to have potentially significant value when real-time information is of interest to people,” Carlee said.

This was the first time Carlee used social media for an emergency communications in Charlotte, but said he got the idea from one of his summer vacations in the Outer Banks when a hurricane came up the east coast. He discovered updates from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Virginia Department of Transportation and Outer Banks municipalities were the best updates he had when trying to get home to Washington, D.C.

“I’ve been involved in emergency management my entire career and spoken widely throughout all the work and experience I’ve had in emergency management, and Twitter was actually the best situational awareness I’ve ever had,” Carlee said. “For the first time I thought twitter might have some redeeming social value.”

Since he had such success with the photos, Carlee said he plans to do more behind-the-scenes looks at city government showing the faces and telling the stories of the people we don’t think about very much who make society function on a daily basis.

In Creedmoor, Moss doesn’t use Twitter, but he is well connected to citizens through Facebook. Moss used social media to gauge which streets had been cleared and which were in greatest need – feedback that helped the public works crew prioritize the roads. The communication was part of a larger emergency plan that involved many public works staff staying overnight on call for the storm.

He uses his personal Facebook to cross-post information from the City of Creedmoor’s Facebook page and said it’s been one of the town’s most effective communication methods.

“It’s been easier to get information out through Facebook because we’re connecting with people where they’re at,” Moss said.

If you scroll through his Facebook Timeline, you’ll see countless posts about Creedmoor and Granville County mixed in with personal posts about basketball and family. Not only does Moss post about city events, but he also engages in active conversations with citizens and friends.

The feedback he receives helps him make decisions and hear points of view he wouldn’t normally hear. Sometimes the feedback isn’t positive, but Moss takes it in stride.

“It’s an opportunity to make connections and discuss complicated issues that affect all of us,” he said.

But in the case of Snowpocalypse, Moss and the town received nothing but praise for their efforts.