"There was an enormous amount of information being broadcast, but during Hurricane Sandy the average citizen wasn't going to scroll through thousands of tweets to find relevant content near them," says Chris Weldon, co-founder and CEO of StormPins, the mobile phone app for emergency communications. "I saw a need for a reliable, map-based platform where users could see what was happening near them in real time and therefore participate in their communities by sharing relevant information with their physical neighbors as well as their virtual friends."
Launched only months after Hurricane Sandy, StormPins connects communities and their citizens through social media to pinpoint the location of severe weather, traffic, and crime. "Most people don't follow their city on social media, and even fewer will download an app from police, fire, or a power company, but they will report relevant information via social networks," Weldon says about the crowd-sourced platform. "The millions of tweets, pictures, status updates, and texts during Hurricane Sandy show that people's natural instinct is to reach out during emergencies, but right now all that data falls through the cracks."
StormPins correlates location with information and makes real-time data useful to individual users as well as cities, police, utilities, and first responders. "Linking community resources in one place means government and utilities have a better chance of coordinating with their citizens via their mobile devices," says Weldon. "It also means that citizens can easily and effectively report, follow, and improve important issues in their own communities."
The shared platform also filters out false information or multiple reports of the same incident. "There is a lack of trust of social media during emergencies. FEMA will tell you much of their social media efforts during Sandy was dispelling rumors or false information," Weldon says. "Through our PinResponder product, we give the local governments administrator privileges of their geographic area. They can edit or delete misinformation. Additionally, the crowd can also vote pins off the map."
StormPins was originally created for safety. Local municipalities could use the app to show downed power lines and flooded roads in order to get first responders to areas where there was the most need. "After I spent most of my career helping companies in bankruptcy or distress and working on their recovery, I know the value of aggregating essential data in times of crisis," says Weldon, who after founding the original concept gathered a team of five with backgrounds in meteorology, geography, engineering, and graphic design.
"I've seen how important it is for professional communities to communicate quickly. Our physical communities need the type of digital connection that social media can provide, and right now they just aren't getting it. StormPins' ability to provide 'ground confirmation' is crucial for emergency managers and meteorologists."
StormPins is useful for everyday news media as well because it's focused on engagement versus broadcasting. By using the StormPins platform, a television station can create two-way engagement that motivates users to contribute and engage with their station. Local stations can broadcast all the pins, pictures, and video from StormPins live on television to bring their viewers interactive news reports.
"StormPins lets every user become a reporter," Weldon says. "Together you are helping solve traffic, crime, and report storm damage. That means your photos and data could be used on air to help people as well as give you a few minutes of fame. Imagine how you'd feel if your storm or crime report saved a life, and on top of that you were credited on the news."
At this early stage, StormPins is still building its community, but they've gotten some attention during non-emergency situations. Local 12 in Cincinnati promoted StormPins on air this summer and received hundreds of pictures documenting sunny skies as well as threatening weather. "Further down the road, there's enormous potential for StormPins to go beyond weather and emergencies to create 'smart cities' all on a single platform."
Social Startups is a weekly Social Media Today column written by Shay Moser about the newest and most innovative social companies. Look for the next installment next Wednesday morning. Logos by Jesse Wells.