Superstorm Sandy: FDNY’s One-Woman Response Team on Twitter

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Emily Rahimi has emerged as a heroine in Superstorm Sandy’s wake. As social media manager for the New York Fire Department’s Twitter account, she tweeted messages of comfort in response to New Yorker’s in peril from Monday night as the storm approached until 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“You could see the panic and fear in the words they were typing,” said Rahimi to Firehouse News. “People were so scared they were reaching out to anyone they thought might listen. It really struck a chord with me. I tried to help them as best as I could.”

As callers jammed 911 (despite Mayor Bloomberg’s constant plea to use 311 for non-life threatening issues), Rahimi responded to every tweet, “took their information and called our dispatchers myself to make sure they sent an emergency crew.”[more]

She is accustomed to sending alerts to her 53,000 followers during emergencies, but the volume of Monday night’s messaging was unprecedented.

“One couple and their baby had moved to the second floor of their home because of floodwaters. They were terrified the water would reach them: ‘My sis’ family at 78th St155-22 Howard Beach Queens NY 11414, water rising 12 ft need help. 1st floor drowned, kids scared,” @rsindh tweeted.

“Dispatch was notified. I know it’s difficult, but please be patient,” responded Rahimi.

“I reassured everyone asking for our help that rescuers would eventually reach them,” she added.

Contrast that with the Twitter “troll” who took advantage of the moment and posted alarming reports about the storm such as plans to shut down all power in Manhattan and that floodwaters were pouring into the New York Stock Exchange, and all major lines of NYC subways were flooded and would be closed for at least a week. 

Beginning Monday as the storm approached, @ComfortablySmug began tweeting to his 6500 followers: “BREAKING: Con Edison has begun shutting down all power in Manhattan.” Or, “BREAKING: Governor Cuomo is trapped in Manhattan. Has been taken to a secure shelter.” 

While his Twitter account had no name attached, Buzzfeed’s Jack Stuef busted him as Shashank Tripathi, a hedge fund analyst and campaign manager for Congressional candidate Christopher Wight (R), as its owner. 

Once exposed, Tripathi tweeted, “I wish to offer the people of New York a sincere, humble and unconditional apology.” “While some would use the anonymity and instant feedback of social media as an excuse, I take full responsibility for my actions. I deeply regret any distress or harm they may have caused.” But it wasn’t enough to save his job.

New York City Councilman Peter Vallone (D) has asked the Manhattan district attorney’s office to consider criminal action as Tripathi’s tweets are the “digital equivalent of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater.”The Manhattan DA is taking this very seriously,” said Vallone to CNN. “I hope the fact that I’m asking for criminal charges to be seriously considered will make him much less comfortable and much less smug.”

As for Rahimi, she told CNN she is most grateful to the people that “let me know that they were rescued. It was nice because you kind of sit there and wonder, ‘Did these people get help?’ ” Her behavior is one for the brand playbook, and Twitter, once again, shows the unprecedented power for good and bad in just 140 characters or less at a time.

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