Image by WaveCult (luis.m.justino) via Flickr

If you haven’t found a valid reason to have a Twitter account, or to be using Twitter, you may be missing out on important information should the event of a disaster loom near you. We live in Central Pennsylvania. These past few weeks, our area has experienced an earthquake, Hurricane Irene, and flooding from Tropical Storm Lee. A few weeks prior to that, we had tornadoes nearby.

When the first tornado was spotted, I was with my son at his Karate class. Being deaf, I don’t hear what’s going on unless I’m right in front of you and reading your lips, or if you are a very loud, deep voiced male sitting behind me, which is what the microphones on my hearing aids pick up more easily than other sounds. I didn’t catch what everyone else had been discussing around me, I was reading my phone.

At the end of class, there was a mad rush by everyone gathering their things and heading out of the building very quickly. I and my son took our time, thinking everyone was headed over to Rita’s and they were trying to see who could get there first for their Italian Ices. As we opened the door of the Karate School, the wind was kicked in high gear, leaves were flying everywhere and the street and buildings were a murky orange color, the clouds were charcoal black and looming almost on top of us. We were at the crosswalk waiting for the light to change when I happened to look from the cars that were stopping to find very well dressed men in suits of black in the middle of the road beckoning us to come across. They escorted us to our car, talking to Little Fellow as they hurried us along.

When I got home, I saw the ticker running  across the screen of our TV about the tornado warnings. I tweeted about my experience, and how being deaf, I had no inkling of what was going on.

The next week, there was another warning, this time my Twitter friends let me know right away!

Then there was the earthquake, on Twitter first, then on Facebook. My husband sent me a message and asked if I felt it. I didn’t. I was at the park with a friend and no one there felt it either. I checked into Twitter, and there it was!

Then came along Hurricane Irene, and I followed all the updates of friends and how they were faring.

Then came the floods. I was heading along 230 on my way toward Harrisburg when I came to a road block at the 230 and 144 junction. I was told to turn around and go back. It was pouring by then, and another road was closed besides that, so I came home. I’m so glad I did.

Twitter gave me up to the minute road closures from tweets by others trying to get back to their homes. Road after road was flooding as tweet after tweet appeared telling us which roads not to take. Because of these tweets, my husband was able to get off of work just in time to come through the secondary roads before they, too, were closed. At first, no one thought it was anything to be in a hurry about..then the flash floods started.

It took one of my Twitter friends almost two hours to get from Hershey to Lancaster as road after road she tried came to flooding where she couldn’t get through. We were so relieved when she and her baby arrived home.

I followed Twitter as others posted which roads were impassable, which ones were yet open,  up to the minute reports from weather services and  officials. In just a short time, over one hundred roads in our area were closed and impassable. School buses had to turn around and take children back to the schools. Because of all the closures I was seeing, I had my husband pick up our son on his way home rather than taking a chance with his bus.

Photo after photo has been shared, posts of how others are coping, pumping water from their basements and tragedies shared, as well as posts of inspiration, distractions and encouragement shared instantly and as needed. Posts about boiling water in some areas because the waste treatment plants were now covered. I know how my Twitter friends are doing, and some have opened their homes to families that are displaced. Shelters were opened and posted on Twitter and rescue missions shared. Twitter brought our community together in unbelievable ways, letting us know what schools were closing, as well as delays.

I did not have to wait for the broadcast news or find a channel with “real time” captioning. Twitter is instant, accessible, and if you follow the right people, accurate. If I were asked what one thing I could take with me  in an emergency, it would be any device that allows me access to Twitter.

Guest Author:

This week is International Deaf Awareness Week. This guest post is from my friend Joyce Edmiston. It originally appeared on her blog,Xpressive Handz, a few weeks back. After reading it, I asked Joyce if she would let me post it here, and she agreed. Joyce is a baby boomer who went from having a mild hearing loss in childhood from recurring ear infections to deafness in late adulthood. These days she shares her daily struggles and helpful discoveries with others on the same journey by blogging. She volunteers her time one day a week to teaching “hearing children” Sign Language at a private school in Harrisburg, PA.