• Basya Benshushan

The Power of the Internet: How It Made Heroes Out of Victims

Updated: Sep 20, 2017

I am a firm believer that the internet of things is a gift to humanity. That is why I do what I do with such passion. When you have real-time communication, it gives people the choice to act in an inspirational way and an opportunity to leave their mark on the world. During Hurricane Harvey we witnessed firsthand the power the internet can have on a community in need. As Houston flooded with water, and our timelines were flooded with pleas, Houstonians stepped up to to take action.

We have advanced into a digital society and the blessings of these times rang true as Harvey flooded our City.

When the Unthinkable Occurs

Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston. With a historic amount of rain, there were many in our community who feared for their lives. The looming threat of drowning in their own homes made them flee and leave their possessions for ruin. Houstonians were advised to use paint, towels or sheets on the outside of their homes to be located by first responders. First responders were at full capacity and we saw the power of private citizens banding together across digital outlets to coordinate rescues, relief, and now rebuilding together alongside our city officials. We have advanced into a digital society and the blessings of these times rang true as Harvey flooded our City.

On Facebook, pleads for help were shared and answered by simple heroes throughout the city who risked their lives and resources to coordinate pickup times and rescue routes. As the water began rising, and Houstonians started to panic, they took to Twitter to tweet personal addresses using #HurricaneHarvey and #HoustonFlood. It didn’t matter if someone knew the other person, there were hundreds of re-tweets on each. The location search filter on Snapchat allowed civilians and rescue teams to see flood levels and deteriorating conditions in real time. Apps such as Zello and Whatsapp were used by private citizen responders to coordinate with boats and trucks to efficiently rescue within their area. Seeing the devastation, businesses and individuals all over the country began sending supplies. When UPS couldn’t get through the highest flood waters this part of Texas has ever seen, local businesses would get their 18 wheelers, dump trucks, and any other appropriate vehicle to brave the storm and deliver supplies from all over the country. There were more than 122,300 documented rescues and evacuations in the Houston area, with more than 210,700 homes either damaged or destroyed.

Without realizing it, we have been celebrating the magic of the internet everyday. We break bread together through Instagram, celebrate the joys that children bring across our timelines, cheer each other on through our wins and bumps in the road. For many it's the much needed go-to fix for escapism, but for this time of crisis, it was the lifeline of hope that Houstonians needed. Today we stand before the internet more thankful than ever because of the heroic choices our city made and continues to make to save and rebuild our community.

How We All Took Action

Without power, many people only had access to news outlets through their phones. Traditional media met us where we are at the most in a high volume way. Across social media, local news accounts gave us a real time look at what was going on around the city. This turned awareness into action for a broad spectrum of humanity. These are times where, in the past, people would have stayed completely in the dark. We saw the urgency first hand, and social media provided the light and ensured there would always be light for those in need of hope.

Many of the first responders weren’t firefighters or policemen. They were everyday Houstonians, they were neighbors, teenagers, fathers and mothers. Many times, these individuals didn’t wait until it was safe to begin rescue efforts. Some lost their lives, and others have shared that they didn’t know if they would be able to make it out alive or not. However, they considered it their duty to their community to be out in the field doing whatever they could. These brave and courageous spirits used everything possible to save their fellow Houstonians - from boats to kayaks and lifted trucks. When the call went out for more volunteers, the community was quick to answer it, and used the internet to get the job done.

As quickly as people lost everything, communities rapidly banded together to coordinated drives for basic necessities like food, water, medicine, baby supplies, bedding, clothing and hands on help to pack up, demolish, and clean up the mess that Harvey has left behind. My entire family was deep in the trenches throughout the rescues. The impact of the intimacy between the rescue of strangers, now neighbors, that we helped out of the water became a transformative experience that challenged my internal psyche with fervor to pick up the damage and destruction around me. PinkCilantro partnered with the Chabad Houston Community to provide a glimpse of a storm that millions of people were living through, resulting in a communal outreach from individuals and organizations that simply asked; 'How can we help?" We created a video for the Chabad Houston Community that reached and resonated with millions. This resulted in the overwhelming responses of inbound spirited organizations and individuals that shared our ferver joining our mission to help those in dire need of the aid we all rallied to offer. Truckloads of necessities and resources started rolling in from all over the country. Label Hackner and Lee Gross, two local businessmen in the Chabad Community, opened their warehouse as a distribution center to unload, sort, and distribute supplies. Naomi Bier, Graduate Research Assistant at The University of Texas Health Science Center, jumpstarted an Amazon Wishlist that fed into the the Chabad Harvey Relief Distribution Center. After seeing this effort, Jeff Bezos responded a few days later requesting to speak directly to the community members behind the wishlist and match their donations.

Across the city, I saw colleagues and friends pick up the gauntlet Harvey threw down and knew what needed to be done. We saw the Giving Hub jump started by two local business women Aimee Woodall of Black Sheep Agency and Carla Valencia of Local Houston Magazine. This collaboration united all those with resources throughout the city to get it to those without. The video created for the Chabad Houston Community mentioned above enabled me to donate 6 trucks full of food and supplies to their organized relief effort, all intended to heal our wounded city.

When We All Rescued Each Other

Social media saved our city. The powerful real time community communication changed lives. We experienced it first hand while we held on and took action as Harvey raged destruction on our state of Texas. We all want to improve our the world around us; some on a micro level and others on a macro level. These digital platforms open the door to new shared ideas, stronger, more accountable relationships, and a sense of community and pride.

© 2017 PinkCilantro. All rights reserved.
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