Hurricane Sandy safety tip: don’t be a social media dumbass

Don't be a dumbassHurricane Sandy is bearing down on the East Coast as I write this, and by all indications it is going to be a big one. If, like me, you live there, you should take a moment and review the government’s sensible recommendations on things you can do to protect yourself and your family from the storm. But in the spirit of this blog’s long-standing advice to always be prepared, I want to add safety recommendation of my own:

When the hurricane strikes, don’t be a social media dumbass.

What’s a social media dumbass, you ask? A social media dumbass is someone who, in the midst of an emergency, thinks “I have to document this to share with the world!”

No. No. No you do not. There are professionals out there documenting the emergency just fine. The world can survive without your live tweets.

A sensible person, when a hurricane strikes, thinks “I have to get myself and my family to shelter immediately.” And that is exactly what you should be thinking. Anything that delays you from taking shelter puts you at risk. This includes standing around taking pictures with Instagram.

Even if you’ve taken shelter and stocked up on essentials, it is still possible to harm yourself through social media dumbassery. One way would be to spend your time in the shelter texting or tweeting or Web surfing or otherwise using your cell phone. This can put you and others at risk in two ways.

First, cellular bandwidth is a limited resource. If you’re using it to upload videos of yourself to YouTube, someone else who actually needs help may not be able to get a signal. (Conversely, if some other dumbass is wasting bandwidth, you may not be able to get a signal if you need help. This is a good reason why you should encourage your friends to keep their dumbassery in check as well.)

Second, there’s no guarantees that when you emerge from shelter you will be greeted with electrical service. It’s highly possible in any affected area that your power will be knocked out by the hurricane, and it may even stay out for several days after the hurricane hits. The batteries in most smartphones (the type of phone favored by the Social Media Dumbass) last at most a few hours without a charge. If you really are without power for an extended period, you will want every minute of that battery life so you can reach others if needed. If it turns out that you need help and your phone’s dead because you burned half of the battery¬†watching Gangnam Style videos in your hurricane shelter, you will feel very, very stupid.

(This latter point also argues for not just not using your phone’s advanced features unless you have to, but for actually disabling them if you can. Many phones will allow you to turn off features like Bluetooth and wireless networking; because these features need to always be running to work, they drain the phone’s battery. Turning them off can help you extend the battery’s life.)

Death by Social Media Dumbassery is not a theoretical risk. There’s already been one known case: a California man who reacted to seeing huge waves rolling in from 2011’s Japanese tsunami by running toward them to take pictures.

Will there be others when Hurricane Sandy hits? That depends on you. Only you can stop social media dumbassery.

UPDATE (Oct. 29, 11 AM): New York Governor Andrew Cuomo agrees: “You do not need to be going to the beach to take pictures; you really don’t.”