When Hurricane Harvey began to threaten the Texas Coast, one of my foremost concerns was its potential impact on Texas Sealife Center. I met founder Dr. Tim Tristan before I moved from Corpus Christi about seven years ago. He shared his vision of a veterinarian-driven wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center to aid shorebirds, raptors and sea turtles with me back then, and I have never forgotten.
In 2011, Texas Sealife Center was established, and it has not looked back since. The Center is all-volunteer and it has been highly successful in helping animals caught in and injured by fishing lines, those that have ingested fishing lures, metal and plastic objects of all varieties, as well as those that have sustained physical injuries and contracted troublesome diseases.
Tim and I have kept up remotely on Facebook. This summer, I agreed to help with some grant research and writing. The Center’s goal is to secure new equipment to support its medical and rehabilitation activities, with an emphasis on sea turtles. Sadly, the number of stranded and injured animals in the Coastal Bend of South Texas continues to increase. And, more sea turtles require help than ever before.
As the volunteers have done time and again, they made themselves available 24-7 to aid wildlife caught in Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. One of the Center’s primary partners is the ARK, or the Animal Rehabilitation Keep of the Marine Science Institute of The University of Texas at Austin, located further north on the Texas Coast. The ARK was heavily damaged during Hurricane Harvey, and Texas Sealife Center gladly took-in injured wildlife that could not be successfully released there. They continue to provide critical medical care and a safe haven until the animals can heal and be released into their natural habitats. Facebook became a powerful platform for conveying the work of Texas Sealife Center during this challenging time.
Aside from researching and submitting proposals for the Center’s urgent equipment needs, one of the most important things I did for this relatively young nonprofit was to create a meaningful GuideStar profile and to obtain the gold seal for transparency. Quite a few nonprofits with which I have worked fear they must have raised a lot of money and have well-known Board members, for instance, before establishing a full profile on GuideStar.
But what GuideStar is about is not money as much as it is how transparent nonprofits are about their operations and programs, their tax statements, future plans and more. GuideStar is about trust and honesty. And hopefully, by taking the worthwhile step to secure the gold seal will inspire even greater confidence by prospective donors in the Center and its management, with the current capital campaign in mind.
I have worked with nonprofit organizations large and small. Many of the larger ones have accomplished less than the smaller ones! Donors must be wary that a well-known “name” and a list of prominent Board members does not guarantee professional operations, efficiency, and genuine dedication by the leadership and staff.
I have found small nonprofits and startups work exceedingly hard, and their volunteers are often more dedicated than those supporting organizations with ample budgets and long tenures. After a long career in major gift fundraising, some of my most fulfilling projects have involved helping small groups build the credibility necessary to inspire significant donations. With this in mind, I urge you to support Texas Sealife Center, and please follow its progress on Facebook. Thank you!
You might enjoy reading my LinkedIn blog post from 2014, #2030NOW, which addresses startups and innovative young nonprofit concepts, and my hope more “Boomers” will fund them.
I was living in San Antonio when I first wrote this post on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. I had been sitting in my home office reading Twitter on my laptop, when I noticed a few posts sounding the alarm about an emergency occurring in Boston. I was riveted to my computer screen, and I began searching for information online. This was the 2013 Boston Marathon terrorist bombing, where sadly more than 260 people were injured.
I have continued to update this blog post since then. Social media plays an ever-growing, essential role in emergency communications today. But back in 2013, I am not sure many thought of social media as an emergency communication and safety tool. Today, this is fairly common knowledge, although some are still learning about the potential uses of social media during emergency situations.
“So why might government agencies or other organizations not be ready yet to use social media as a platform for emergency management? Well, even though social media may be common among most people, updating social media accounts, let alone during emergencies and disasters, requires a huge amount of time, effort and understanding of social media. And with 74% of social media users expecting response agencies to answer calls for help within an hour, that’s a lot of responding in a very little amount of time. And time is always precious during an emergency.”
Sonia Paul for Mashable
Social Media 4 Emergency Management posted helpful advice in a 2013 article called, “A Role for Onlookers.” “If you are in a jurisdiction that is dealing with an incident of national significance, you are busy learning the following lessons:
The world is watching and wants to help,
Rumors will run rampant because people try to live-tweet scanners and news broadcasts in crisis events,
Images and videos, no matter how graphic, will surface, and
The amount of information available will become a sifting and sorting nightmare, but
There is now little dispute that the use of social media can rapidly allow agencies to share information and employ the public as additional eyes and ears during significant events.”
Valuable time does not have to be spent “wordsmithing” updates to social networks; it is more important to get the message out the door as quickly as possible and to make sure your point is clearly understood.
In a fast moving situation, it isn’t that difficult to understand how incomplete or incorrect content can get posted. However, if that does happen, it may be necessary to repeat the correction.
Situational awareness information can often be found from the social accounts of other city agencies or organizations.
Twitter was certainly the platform to watch during the Boston Marathon. It was while viewing Twitter that I became aware of the bombing incident in the first place. Kudos to the Boston Police for their quick and amazingly efficient response.
“The Boston Police … seemed as prepared for the communications breakdown as they were for the actual emergency response. Using social media — mainly Twitter — Boston Police was able to spread its emergency notification messages literally across the globe in a matter of minutes; and, thanks to the help of the media and concerned citizens from all points on the compass, that message was multiplied at an exponential rate.”
On a personal note, I would suggest one way people can help alleviate disaster situations – if you are yourself safe from harm – is to “share” reputable information from disaster management agencies on your own social platforms. Amplify their impact! Follow the local police and fire departments, FEMA and Homeland Security on social media, for instance. They are on top of emergency situations, and the information they are sharing online can be re-shared to the benefit of your friends, family, neighbors and the entire community.
Carolyn’s Activities and Other Resources
From 2015 to 2021, I served as the lead volunteer organizer of Nonprofit Tech Club Austin, a partnership involving Capital Factory, TechSoup and NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network. Just prior to COVID-19 lockdown rules in early 2020, we held a program at Capital Factory on using social media during emergencies. Below is the recording from Austin Tech Live. Our guest speaker was Ashley Morris, who is now an emergency planner in Baltimore. She is very smart and approachable. Follow the link to her LinkedIn profile, and link up!
Center for Disaster Philanthropy provides helpful information for those wanting to contribute to disaster recovery. In brief, disaster giving has a life cycle. The initial emotional response people have to a disaster leads to many helpful, up-front donations. But recovery requires a longer time frame. CDP will help you make smarter long-term giving decisions. Follow them on social media.
Facebook Crisis Response. On a personal note, years ago a friend from graduate school who is teaching at a university in Oklahoma, found his campus under a tornado watch. He posted on Facebook while the emergency order was announced and while he and his colleagues were hunkered down in the basement of his building. One nice thing about Facebook is that when I saw what was happening, I was able to rally other fellow graduate students who have profiles on Facebook to cheer him up and urge him to be safe. It was a group counseling session of sorts! Visit the Facebook Crisis Response for information about current emergencies and more.
Global Disaster Preparedness Center notes in Social Media in Disasters, “The term ‘social media’ refers to Internet-based applications that enable people to communicate and share resources and information. The emergence of this new communication channels represents an opportunity to broaden warnings to diverse segments of the population in times of emergency. These technologies have the potential to prevent communication breakdown through reliance on just one platform and thereby to reinforce the diffusion of warning messages but also present policy makers with new challenges.”
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. “National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership based organization that serves as the forum where organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle—preparation, response and recovery —to help disaster survivors and their communities.”
Concerning social platform companies and activity online during emergency events, I want to share an opinion. I was on Twitter when the Boston Marathon attack occurred in 2013. I kept noticing Twitter posts about something being wrong, which led me to news reports and then to television. Social media companies have learned by now they need to monitor their platforms carefully for images that would be disturbing to viewers. During the marathon events, I got on Tumblr, for instance, and someone at the marathon was literally posting photos of victims with their limbs injured. I can also understand how emergency responders would benefit from knowing exactly what is happening and where. I do not know if this is available, but emergency response agency personnel might consider posting a handle or a link to a secure online channel that is easy for emergency viewers to access via smartphones, so these kinds of upsetting but helpful photos and videos can be uploaded securely for the benefit of the overall emergency response effort (rather than posting them online so the public can view them).
Auto-posting services on social media: I would say to anyone auto-posting on social media via a professional sharing platform, turn it off during an emergency. There is nothing more jarring than seeing cheerful ads popping up about your business or nonprofit when people are suffering during an emergency. Humorous advertisements fall flat, and viewers can get a negative, “I don’t care about your emergency” opinion of your company or your nonprofit. “Look, we’re having a gala!” as someone is horribly injured makes for a truly jarring combination of messages. Ten years after having jumped onboard with social media, I still refrain from using automatic posting services. Too dangerous to my mind.