Stranded by Harvey, Saved by Social Media

Startling proof that getting emergency help after 140 characters or less actually works

Rescue efforts in natural disasters have traditionally started with a 911 call. But now as the state of Texas deals with the devastation of Tropical Storm Harvey, livesaving situations are often being handled in 140 characters or less.

Houston-area residents have turned to social media, specifically Twitter, to often post that they are in need of help.

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Tagging the posts with #HoustonRescue or #HoustonSOS, a large number of users tweeted that they need help to escape the life-threatening dangers from the flooding.

Several users have tweeted they are stranded, posting their addresses in the message.

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A recent report from indicates that Harvey could drop as much as 50 inches of rain in Texas, with Louisiana also suffering damage from the rainfall.

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Others have taken to Facebook as well, organizing rescue missions on Facebook groups, while posting pictures to show the damage.

But it’s been the openness of Twitter, where anyone can see a tweet or search through hashtags, that has attracted much of the attention.

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Helping with Harvey. Twitter has acted as a conduit for Houston’s 911 service, which has been inundated with calls. Officials in the city said that they had received more than 50,000 calls between Saturday and Sunday night, or more than six times the average daily volume for that time span. Many of the calls were for high-water rescues.

A Twitter account, Harvey Flood Rescue, has been set up to detail logging requests for rescues seen on social media. The account, which has over 600 followers, has created a Google Doc, detailing information about people who need help or which Twitter accounts to follow for updates, including the City of Houston Office of Emergency Management (@HoustonOEM), as well as local ABC and Fox affiliates.

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Help coming from both sides. But it’s not just users taking to the service, asking for help — authorities are using it to get the message out.

The Houston Police Department has been active, asking anyone who has a boat if he can help.

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In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the state of Louisiana and in particular New Orleans, social media was in its infancy. Facebook was still only available to college kids, and Twitter would not be created until March 2006.

U.S. Coast Guard officials warned that social media should not be a 911 replacement. “Do not report your information on social media sites,” the U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement on Sunday. However, it’s helped aid in recovery, due in part to the functioning cellphone networks in the area.

The nation’s largest carriers by subscribers, both AT&T and Verizon, issued statements that their networks were ready to handle the storm.

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“As Hurricane Harvey continues its path toward the Texas coast, Verizon Wireless is well-prepared to serve customers in Corpus Christi and across the region with the nation’s largest and most reliable 4G LTE network,” Verizon wrote in an August 25 statement.

In addition to providing disaster response equipment and personnel, AT&T said it had “improved the network redundancy in storm-prone areas,” adding, “It has installed more generators at critical cell towers and switching facilities, and moved electronics essential to network operations above expected flood levels,” in a similarly worded statement.

Other instances. This is not the first time that Twitter hashtags have been used as emergency tools.

Residents of Paris used the hashtag #PorteOuverte or “Open Door,” to offer support and shelter to people affected by the terror attacks in the city in November 2015.

Earlier this year, people in Manchester used the hashtag #RoomforManchester to provide shelter to people stranded after the terror attack on the city’s Manchester Arena.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @chris_ciaccia. Fox News’ James Rogers contributed to this report. This Fox News piece is used by permission.

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