By Emily Younker and Scott Meeker
Two years after the tornado, Rebecca Williams remains committed to helping people around the world keep up with the progress that has been made in Joplin.
Williams serves as the primary administrator of the Joplin Tornado Info page on Facebook, which still has more than 46,000 people following it.
The Neosho resident said that it was her daughter, Genevieve, who came up with the idea in the hours after the EF-5 tornado touched down in Joplin.
“She was working on some social media projects for other people and she set up the page,” Williams said. “There was such an information vacuum locally immediately after the tornado. She was finding that people throughout the nation had better information on what was happening. It was unreal.
“She looked at me wide-eyed and said, ‘How can we get more information?’ Then she had the bright idea to start the Facebook page.”
They spent the next few days trying to help find answers to questions people were posting — from the locations of triage centers, available shelter and trying to make connections with loved ones.
“We had citizen volunteers, some local and some not, who were pulling whatever information they could find and sharing it with us,” Williams said. “It was an amazing thing ... a grass-roots community effort. We vetted everything that we could and tried not to post hearsay. We were very careful to post from a trusted news source or information from someone we knew.”
Beyond the initial months of trying to share information, she began to see a larger role for the social media page.
“It started becoming apparent to me that it was a chronological documentation of Joplin’s recovery,” Williams said.
With her daughter attending college, Williams serves as the primary administrator for the page. When it first launched, she said that she was “remedial at best” when it came to using social media.
Early on, she began taking notes on how the page was being utilized in the hopes that someone else might find it useful.
Williams and her daughter partnered with David Burton with MU Extension to put together “The Use of Social Media for Disaster Recovery,” an online guide available through the Extension office. It includes information on how they set up the page, a template for initial posts following a disaster and best practices.
“We Googled it and found there’s really nothing similar out there,” she said. “We thought it would be helpful to have some guidelines in place. Our dream is for communities to have their social media infrastructure in place prior to a disaster.”