With a dearth of information from the online pages of several state agencies tasked with responding to national disasters, the nation turned to the Trinidad & Tobago Weather Centre’s Facebook and Twitter pages during the height of last week’s major flooding.
The site’s creator Kalain Hosein was a hero to thousands, including the media, who accessed his site for reliable, accurate and timely information on the flooding. Hosein is the sole entity behind the Centre which has become massively popular as a constant source of reliable information on weather conditions throughout the country and the region.
Since October 18, when the first rains started, he has been posting almost non-stop, getting minimal sleep to ensure that his followers have the latest and most relevant information on the weather and flooding.
In fact, through T&T Weather Centre, some of the most critical information was first disseminated — flood bulletins, emergency numbers, maps of alternate routes and photos of destruction. TTWC was among the first to report on flooding on the Solomon Hochoy Highway near Chase Village on Divali, and that the police had effectively rerouted traffic along Mosquito Creek on Saturday. Agencies responsible for monitoring public safety were not even aware of the situation.
WORKING FROM TEXAS
The service has become the country’s de facto account for natural disaster and weather updates, with its posts shared by everyone from journalists to government agencies. During peak events, the page can get over one million views in a week. Not bad for a 21-year-old university student based in Texas, USA.
“Well, to be quite honest, TTWC is just one person...me,” Hosein told Newsday via a telephone interview. Hosein has been living in Texas, for the past seven years. Formerly from Princes Town and Freeport, he attended the Jordan Hill Presbyterian School and then Naparima College, before emigrating to the US.
He coordinated the account from his bedroom in Houston, where he attends Texas A&M University. TTWC has nearly 63,000 followers on Facebook and 2,600 on Twitter. Hosein acknowledges that it is a daunting responsibility, since the pages have become so popular, especially during times of crisis. But with the information gap from official agencies, he felt it his duty to step up to the task.
“Information is not given out in Trinidad in a timely manner. Sometimes it feels like we’re the last to get updates that could really make a difference in how well people can prepare,” he said.
As such, he’s faced some backlash, with the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) and the Meteorological Office both publicly denouncing and reprimanding TTWC, as not being an ‘official source’ and even accusing the service of peddling misinformation.
But Hosein is careful. He takes pains to verify his material, fact-checking with multiple sources. And he is willing to own up and learn from his mistakes.
On the TTWC’s Facebook page, he has taken pains to explain it is not an official agency and does not issue warnings or other alerts.
Most importantly, Hosein is quick on the ball—and his much faster reaction time seems to be influencing communications policy among first responding agencies.
The Ministry of Works retweeted TTWC’s post of emergency numbers to its followers at the height of this most recent flooding crisis.
“Sometimes it seems as if the ODPM has forgotten its social media passwords. They barely even use the official means, like press releases or even the news media. The Met Office isn’t bad, but I’ve talked to people there and it seems to be more of a struggle where the older people don’t trust social media despite the younger people trying to push it. The Ministry of Works and Transport does a better job,” he said.