In Atlanta snow storm, it’s social media to the rescue

In Atlanta snow storm, it’s social media to the rescue

View CaptionHide Caption
This map featured on the Facebook page “SnowedOutAtlanta” uses crowdsourcing — soliciting aid from a large source of people, particularly those online — to match motorists stranded in the snow storm with good Samaritans willing to help or offer shelter.

As Winter Storm “Leon” 2014 worsened Tuesday evening, a Marietta woman reached out over the social media vines to help stranded motorists, and enable others to help.

Nearly 50,000 people are following Michelle Sollicito’s “SnowedOutAtlanta” Facebook page.

And the social network Sollicito created, which got so big overnight that it had to be splintered into regional pages, is winning applauds from across metro Atlanta.

“You’re saving lives every minute the clock strikes,” Atlantan Nya Bishop said of Sollicito this morning on Sollicito’s personal Facebook page.

“She has done more for our city than any official,” Scott Wise of Marietta said.

The page offers everything from helpful advice to a crowdsourcing map connecting stranded motorists with nearby strangers offering shelter.

“The map was intended to match the offer with the need,” said Jelena Crawford, the Atlanta woman who created the map for the Facebook group. “It’s been great to see it so successful.”

Even now, the site offers a link where people, whose cell phones are dying, can pin their last location before they lose mobile service.

Sollicito said she started the group because she wanted to connect some of her friends to others who have the ability to help.

“I left work early and felt guilty,” the technology contractor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via, of course, Facebook. “I thought I might lose my job.”

Sollicito said when she learned that a friend’s husband was stuck, she linked him to another friend who was in that same area. More contacts found their way into her sphere.

“I thought, ‘We should put these people in touch,’ ” Sollicito said. “And it just ballooned.”

As many as 300 people were joining the page every 15 minutes by 11 p.m. Tuesday night, she said.

And then the crowdsourcing map was added, Crawford said, further boosting the reach of the network and the volunteers offering aid.

“Everything was going so fast and furious,” said Crawford, an Atlanta business technologies consultant. “Once the map started having traction, there were other people shepherding it. These are total strangers and we never did a sidebar to sort of discuss what was happening.”

Eventually, Sollicito said the response overwhelmed Facebook.

“I had Facebook techies (contacting) me to ask if I could separate the group up into little groups because they couldn’t really deal with the demand,” she said Wednesday morning during an interview with blogradio.com “Live, Love, Laugh!” host Tosha Meredith.

The result? Facebook groups for East Atlanta, South Atlanta, East Cobb, North Atlanta, Acworth and West Atlanta.

At this writing, there are 48,437 followers of the main site. And more than 3,300 combined following the other six sites.

Sollicito said she’s been able to account for roughly 400 stories of people being helped through “SnowedOutAtlanta.”

“After that, I lost count,” she said. “Through this page, an elderly woman with cancer got help; a pregnant mom and a young child found shelter; a man with a heart problem got to the hospital.”

Crawford points to metrics from the “Offers of shelter” map that tell a better story about how effective the Facebook groups have been.

She said there were “over 800 offers placed on the map,” and the shortcut link to the map has been accessed more then 5,600 times.

“It shows the huge capability,” Crawford said. “Social media has a huge power to help address challenges, and as long as we harness it, it can take action quickly.”

Sollicito said she was happy her idea helped people make the most of an otherwise bad situation.

“There is a lot of anger, but there is a lot of love,” she said.

Others are in awe of what Sollicito has created.

“Atlanta,” Wise said, “should applaud this woman.”

Crawford said she is happy the Facebook group was helpful.

“If even one connection was made,” she said, “to me that’s a success.”

Weather and Traffic