airlift rescue of man in aftermath of Hurricane Maria

Connecting families during disaster


Maureen Roen

While millions were in panic in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria last September, ASU Associate Professor Manuel Avilés-Santiago took action.

Understanding the importance of social media as a communication tool, Avilés-Santiago created the Facebook group “Puerto Rico Maria Updates" even as the storm raged. It gave people an area to give, find and rely on information regarding the natural disaster.

“By the next day, it had become a massive source of information for many people, because no one had connection with their families and friends,”  said Avilés-Santiago, who is associate professor of communication and culture in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus.

Avilés-Santiago’s work was featured in a segment of the KAET/Channel 8 “Catalyst” episode on April 10, which showcased some of the work being done by ASU scholars and researchers to help avoid or respond to natural disasters.

Avilés-Santiago wasn’t able to talk to his parents in Puerto Rico for a whole two weeks after the hurricane. In fact, he first gained connection with them through Facebook, too, when one of his friends found them and took a video of them.

“I don’t know how I would have dealt with the anxiety and frustration and sadness during those weeks if it wasn’t for social media,” he reflected. “I think that the people really understood the power of social media in terms of how to use it to modelize responses — how you can use (social media), even to prevent other disasters from happening.”

Written by Kynan Marlin, student marketing assistant, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, and sports journalism major, ASU Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

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