When Louisiana was hit with catastrophic floods a year ago — an event regarded as the "worst U.S. disaster since Hurricane Sandy" — 84,000 people took to Snapchat over 96 hours with submissions to the app's Our Story. It was a powerful, first-hand glimpse at the tragedy for those who weren't there and couldn't fathom what was taking place.
Now, as Houston continues to face fierce floods and rainfall from Hurricane Harvey, Snapchat has shown its value in unexpected ways. On Sunday, the University of Houston's Houston Public Media advised trapped Houstonians to use the app's Snap Map to monitor what was going on around them. If you head to Snap Map right now, you'll see that the Houston area is covered by a bright red heat spot — an indication that huge volumes of Snaps are being submitted at once. Tap that and you're met with sobering glimpses at what's happening in Houston: Residents attempting to wade through water up to their hips; dogs alone in front yards; a YMCA building is completely flooded.
Over the course of 86 hours — from Thursday morning (when preparations for the storm were underway) through Sunday night — between 250,000 and 300,000 Snaps were submitted to the Hurricane Harvey Our Story. A massive 100,000 Snaps were submitted to the Story yesterday alone. This is considerably higher than the number of Snaps that have been submitted for other natural disaster news stories, a Snapchat spokesperson said. The app is continuing to receive thousands of submissions by the hour. On Sunday, it added a link to the ongoing Harvey Our Story that connects people to the donations page for the Red Cross.
The extent to which the Harvey Our Story has aided in relief efforts is unclear. But the tragedy does show how Snap Map, a product launched just over two months ago, can be used in times of disaster. It's a first response social media tool without parallel — so long as users are submitting Snaps publicly, anyone can see areas where power has gone out, where people are trapped, and when rescues are taking place — all in real time. (Though there are of course privacy concerns about a tool that shares so much private information.)
For those who are in Texas and want to show only select family members and friends they're safe, go to the Map's settings, and specify which friends can see your location. Like Facebook's Safety Check, it's a way to let people know altogether, rather than fielding individual inquiries.