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In the midst of Hurricane Sandy’s devastating impact, many factors play into local residents’ decisions about when to evacuate or whether to evacuate at all.

While chaos and confusion can impact individuals’ interactions and decisions during the storm, researchers Dr. Thomas Ferris, Dr. Erick Moreno-Centeno and Dr. Justin Yates in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Texas A&M University say they suspect that those decisions were at least partially attributed to nontraditional sources, including social media.

So does Dr. David Matarrita from the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Sciences, the fourth partner on a multidisciplinary research team at Texas A&M. As part of a National Science Foundation-sponsored research project focusing on communications during natural disasters, the team surveyed New Jersey residents who experienced the effects of Sandy firsthand. The survey asked multiple questions relating to personal uses of social media, such as how often members of a household used various social media sites, what devices were used to access these sites and how typical social media use changed during the hurricane’s impact.

By analyzing data obtained from these questionnaires, the researchers say they hope to acquire information on how social media is relied on by individuals during a crisis. With this research, they might be able to advise emergency responders and managers on ways to leverage social media and other forms of informal communication to maintain more accurate and timely situational awareness and pass information to residents during a disaster.

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