Social media has proven to be a powerful tool during natural disasters, warning people of imminent danger, providing useful information and keeping loved ones connected.
That became evident as Hurricane Matthew approached the Lowcountry in 2016, and it continued recently during Hurricane Dorian. Making use of their social media outlets, newspapers and TV news stations posted updates on the weather, while local police, fire and town officials shared information about evacuation orders and routes. Citizens posted updates on traffic, where to buy sand bags and which gas stations had run out of gas.
Social media is just as helpful - if not more so - during and after a storm hits. During Hurricane Matthew, residents who had evacuated for the storm didn't have to wait until they returned to find out how their homes were. Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka gave updates in the wind and rain via Facebook Live. People who stayed quickly offered to check on homes after the storm passed, sending photos and videos to evacuees through Facebook.
While the Lowcountry awaited Hurricane Dorian, Sulka reminded people to pay attention to the weather forecast, find insurance papers, gas up their cars and take videos of their homes. She encouraged people who did not evacuate to go to the nearest shelter.
Sulka also gave a heartwarming update in a video early on the morning of Sept. 5, saying Bluffton had been blessed with little damage.
After the evacuation orders had been lifted in those storms, people used social media to ask what restaurants and stores were open, to check on their friends, and to ask or offer help to others.
A Facebook page called Bluffton/Hilton Head Ask and Answer helped many residents through Hurricanes Matthew, Irma and Dorian, connecting people who needed help with those who were able and willing to assist them.
Before Dorian passed by the Lowcountry, Bluffton dad Brian Hughes posted on the page just after 11 p.m. Sept. 2, asking where to get infant Motrin. A mandatory evacuation had been ordered the night before, so most stores were closed. The one place that was open only had regular Motrin, not the kind for infants.
Hughes's 9-month-old son, Branigan, had spiked a 104.1 temperature at about 10 p.m. He and his wife were told to give him some Motrin since he still had a high fever.
"That's when I decided to check on Ask and Answer," Hughes said. "The response was incredible. I had strangers willing to drive it to me to help out."
Hughes's good friend and employer, Chris Donelson of Air Duct Dr., had some infant Motrin and drove it to him at midnight.
During Hurricane Matthew, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office had issues with some citizens using social media to spread misinformation from unofficial sources.
During and after Hurricane Dorian, however, BCSO public information officer Maj. Bob Bromage thanked page administrators at the department's final storm-related press conference Sept. 6. "I'd like to thank the local media, and I'd also like to thank the private Facebook groups that have been instrumental in containing some of the anxiety, in containing the misinformation," Bromage said at the conference.
On Sept. 1, he left this note on the Ask and Answer page: "Thanks to the administrators of this site and thank you for staying informed."
Again, on Sept. 7, Bromage praised the online community, writing, "Thanks to Heather Nicole Price and the admins for sharing official information throughout Hurricane Dorian and to everyone for staying informed. We have a great community."
Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.