As South Floridians and the rest of the East Coast prepares for the start of the 2012 Hurricane Season, officials at the National Hurricane Center in Miami are preparing to get vital info to the masses through social media.
A year after the NHC launched their Facebook page and Twitter account, more and more people are getting their storm updates through those channels as opposed to traditional mediums like television and radio.
NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said it's all about reaching as many people as possible.
"This is an audience that may not be watching the TV but they're social media savvy," Feltgen said. "They're an audience we may not have been able to reach otherwise."
Feltgen said that when the NHC joined Facebook shortly before hurricane season last year, the "likes" were slow in coming. But when Hurricane Irene tore up the East Coast, the "likes" started coming in at a pace of 15,000 a day.
During one 8-day stretch when Irene struck, the NHC Facebook page received 6.4 million views, Feltgen said. It ended the 2011 Hurricane Season with 68,000 "likes" and as of this week, was up to 132,000.
Feltgen, who handles many of the posts on the page, says it's the most "liked" Facebook page among all of those run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In addition to updates, the page provides satellite images, maps, charts and photos from different disaster scenes and inside the NHC.
"We try to keep it as fresh as possible," Feltgen said.
As for Twitter, the NHC maintains two feeds, one for the Atlantic (@NHC_Atlantic) and one for the Eastern Pacific (@NHC_Pacific). The Atlantic feed has over 50,000 followers,
while the Pacific has over 7,500.
Every time the NHC has an update or advisory, they automatically post to Twitter. It's not a two-way feed, so there's no interaction with users. "We just don't have the bodies
to monitor them," Feltgen said.
About two-thirds of the NHC's Twitter followers are women, and the age bracket between 25-44 make up 60 percent of their followers. In addition to North America, Latin America
and the Caribbean, the NHC boasts followers in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Britain.
Feltgen said the NHC is looking for other ways to use social media, including a better way to get immediate feedback and information from users.
"We can have the most perfect forecasts in the world, but if the people aren't using it, it doesn't matter if it's perfect," he said.