Thursday, January 8, 2015

How to use FaceBook to help people and animals in a disaster

Cathi Petterson
  • Look for or create a FaceBook page to help your area recover.
  • This FaceBook page should be a “Community page,” which means that an unlimited number of people may participate after “liking” the page. Although a “group page” may sound more like what is needed, group pages are private pages and members must be approved. (A group page could work in tandem with a large community page, letting the admins talk in private.)
  • The best name for the page will include -in this order - the community name, the disaster, and then something about animals, for example: "Smallville Tornado Animal Relief" or Smallville Tornado Animal Lost & Found." This allows people who are not in animal rescue to easily find your page when searching on the Smallville Tornado.
  • Volunteers should identify other FaceBook pages helping with all aspects of the relief effort and post your FaceBook page on them as well as adding your FaceBook address to the comments pages on online newspaper articles and blogs about animals in the disaster and social media and the disaster.
  • FaceBook is ideal for networking animal rescue groups, authorities and those who have lost and found animals. However it is not very good for keeping lost and found animals in view, because the FaceBook Wall is constantly renewed, pushing the latest information to the top. The photo album feature is not very robust and cannot be accessed from a smart phone.
  • setting up a weekend event for people who have lost and found animals to meet with local animal rescue
  • coordinate keeping animals in the area and tracking their locations - this is key to doing reunions
  • recruiting volunteers to do leaflets and posters for people shelters in the first few days after the disaster -before people disperse- so those who have lost their housing will know who to tell about their missing animals
  • facilitate the collection and delivery of crates and food to people who lost their homes
  • identify areas where strays can be fed and trapped.

After a disaster, people turn to the social media to help. This is a way for people who are not in the area to lend aid to their “neighbors.”

Because FaceBook and Twitter and the other online media are relatively new, the best way they can be used after a disaster is still under construction; but here are some observations on how FaceBook can be used to help animals and their families.

A way to get around this is to use Flickr in tandem with a FaceBook page or pages (cooperation rather than competition among various pages is ideal.) Flickr is a very good way to keep photos of animals available for viewing. It has a robust tagging system that allows searching on combinations of breed and color. Here is an example of a Flickr page from the Joplin tornado.
Pinterest is becoming very popular very fast. Because it is graphics based, it might be good for this purpose. The only problem is Pinterest does not work with FaceBook. Any animal photos would have to be uploaded, rather than "pinned" through a URL. Nevertheless, it is a task you can probably find eager volunteers to do. Here is a lost dog page on Pinterest.)
FaceBook pages work best when there are not a lot of restrictions on posting. They are more likely to be lively and useful when policing is only used to keep people on topic, but not to tell them how to post. It is very important to allow links! FaceBook has robust spam filters these days and if people are posting inappropriate photos or comments, the best way to handle that is delete without comment. If you react by shutting down your page or cutting down posting privelages, they win. Having said that, if a page gets too popular, it may have to be shut down during hours when there is no admin available because many so many spammers post that some get past the filter. This usually is a problem at the 100K user mark and you should not aspire for some many users. There is such a thing as too much traffic!
You may see a page with many thousand members, but very few posters. These pages do not encourage networking. The volume of posts and the variety of people posting tells you more about the effectiveness of the page than the number of “Likes.”
Ideally a page covers a single affected community, which is not too large an area. Because communications are disrupted after a disaster, at least one person with admin privileges should be from outside the area - preferably a former resident. It is also necessary to have an admin who is boots on the ground and who works in animal rescue.
A successful page is very much a team effort. (For some reason a number of pages have had problems with rogue admins, so do not give admin privileges to someone you just met. It is OK to accept help, just make it on a volunteer basis without access to edit the page.)
Some ideas on how to use your page beyond reporting lost and found animals are:
Another great resource, which stresses the amount of time you will expend in your volunteer effort, is an article by an expert in social media who created a very useful FaceBook page to help Joplin residents after their tornado. Although the article is about a page geared toward helping people, it is valuable reading for anyone wanting to help through social media.

It is a daunting task to run a FaceBook page while helping out with animal rescue in the midst of a disaster – but it is so necessary. After Katrina, many people stated the most important things to them were there family and their animals. Possessions came third; so if you are helping animals, you are helping people heal.