Three months have passed since Superstorm Sandy made landfall south of Atlantic City, New Jersey, close to Union Beach. The news reports from the small towns in Sandy’s path were frightening to say the least. We had reason to worry. Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross reported that Sandy might have been their biggest United States disaster response in the last five years. A government report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) more than supports that view.

According to NOAA’s January 2013 study, Superstorm Sandy was a triple threat — a tropical hurricane combined with a nor’easter and a winter storm. For that reason, NOAA ranked Sandy as the number one US weather event for 2012. With wind gusts up 94 miles per hour and reported storm surges of up to 12.5 feet above normal high tide, the number one spot was well deserved. The storm’s reach was extensive: it affected most of the Eastern seaboard, plus areas inland from Great Lakes and into Canada, and as far south as Tennessee and North Carolina.

Since 1881, the Red Cross has been on the job to help people affected by disasters, and Superstorm Sandy is no exception. Each year, the American Red Cross assists the victims of approximately 70,000 disasters, from house fires to hurricanes.

How do they effectively organize volunteers, solicit donations and connect disaster victims with the support needed on such a large scale? For the Red Cross, social media meets those needs.

In March 2012, the American Red Cross, with assistance from Dell, launched a ground-breaking idea: a new Digital Operations Center devoted to humanitarian relief in Washington, D.C. Modeled after Dell’s own Social Media Listening Command Center, the Red Cross Center is powered by Dell technology and supported by consulting services from Dell.

“The Red Cross has always had a very strong social media program,” said Laura Howe, vice president of Public Relations for the Red Cross. Howe said, “When a disaster happens, one of the first things we do is go to the Digital Operations Center” for insight. Social engagement specialist Gloria Huang added, “The Digital Operations Center allows us to see what people are saying,” during disasters in real time. Huang said, “That gives us an opportunity to use that information to make decisions about what kind of help we’re going to provide, where we’re going and what information we need to be giving out.”

Watch the video, next, for more quotes and comments from Red Cross staffers about social media and the Red Cross.

In the days just after Superstorm Sandy made landfall, the Red Cross used Twitter to tweet about shelter locations, provide survival tips and pinpoint locations where people needed assistance. Hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers got the messages and retweeted them to their own social networks. Counting on a Twitter following that has grown to over 800,000, the American Red Cross has the numbers to move faster and reach more people than ever before to support their humanitarian efforts with social media.

There’s more to it than disaster assistance. Social media is an important component for soliciting donations and recruiting volunteers. “Our number one goal is to make social media part of the operational DNA here at the Red Cross,” Howe explained. “Making sure that you have well-thought-out strategy and … tactics to support that strategy is very important. It’s been very important for us here at the Red Cross.”

The scope of the disaster was immense. On January 11, 2012, The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) blog stated that 525,137 Sandy survivors have applied for assistance and $1.19 billion in aid has been approved to meet the victims’ needs. The Red Cross (as of December 2012) has raised nearly $170 million in aid for Sandy victims. They estimate spending is at $110 million for emergency relief alone through the end of December 2012. (See the Red Cross One-Month Report on Superstorm Sandy for details).

The Red Cross effort is not over. As of January 10, 2013, the Red Cross still has volunteers on the scene helping victims. Les Stone of the American Red Cross put together this inspiring slide show that describes how Red Cross volunteers are still making a difference.

Have you been affected by Superstorm Sandy? Have you been helped by the Red Cross? Have you volunteered or supported the Red Cross in other ways? Let us know in the comments.

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