Social Media in the August, 2014 Napa Earthquake: Behind the Scenes at CalOES

 The building housing Carpe Diem Restaurant in downtown Napa, CA lost a big chunk of its second and third story in the quake.

The building housing Carpe Diem Restaurant in downtown Napa, CA lost a big chunk of its second and third story in the quake.

 CalOES Deputy Director for Communications Kelly Huston gives a TV interview at the State Operations Center on August 24, 2014

CalOES Deputy Director for Communications Kelly Huston gives a TV interview at the State Operations Center on August 24, 2014

I live in Sacramento, about 70 miles from the Napa valley, home to some of the world's most amazing wine and vineyards. The region is a tourist paradise, featuring gorgeous landscapes and quaint towns. It was Sunday morning, August 24, 2014, at 3:20 a.m. when a sharp earthquake suddenly jolted the city of Napa.

Building facades on some structures cracked, windows broke, and in some dramatic cases, masonry walls broke off and crashed to the sidewalk. Inside homes, glassware, knick-knacks, picture frames and all manner of household items crashed to the floor. Fumbling in the dark, some residents cut themselves severely as they got out of bed and walked barefoot on glass or sharp items through their disheveled homes.

This was the largest earthquake to hit California since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Besides being a literal wake-up call about the need to be prepared for an earthquake event, the earthquake presented communicators with the challenge of reaching out with solid information. And, as is becoming the norm in emergencies, they turned to social media. Communicators in the City and County of Napa sprang into action, as did officials at the California Governors Office of Emergency Services.

Not long after the earthquake, I got clearance to drive over to the state-of-the-art CalOES State Operations Center in Sacramento and witness the behind-the-scenes response, which for communications depends heavily on social media use and, in many cases, low-cost or free technology that is highly effective.

In this video, much of which was shot with an iPhone 5, OES communications officials Kelly Huston and Brad Alexander share their best practices and advice for communicating in emergencies.

I've found that matter how ahead or behind the social media curve you feel you are, there's always something you can learn from your colleagues who have been through one or more disasters and have gained some experience using social media tools. One of the newest communication techniques that's got me excited is what I call "Social MultiMedia." It's all about using your smartphone or tablet to quickly create compelling, high-value audio or video content that can be easily shared to help you get your message out to a wider audience during emergencies. I'll write more about that in my next post!

Meantime, I'd love to stay in touch. Click here to get notified about blog posts and periodic social media tips, tools and techniques!