Making a Difference – Meet at NeXC2012, Connect for Hurricane Sandy Response

Megan O'Neil
Shane Bradt

Megan O’Neil and Shane Bradt met in Oklahoma City in October. Even though they met in the evening in an informal setting, they talked about their jobs and their work for eXtension. They became friends on Facebook when they returned home – Megan to Maryland, Shane to New Hampshire. Little did they know that within a month Shane would answer a Facebook plea from Megan.

Megan is a University of Maryland Extension agent, teaching finance. She works in Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties. The town of Crisfield is in Somerset County. It is on the Tangier Sound, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay, and has the distinction of being the southernmost city in Maryland. Crisfield was hit especially hard by Hurricane Sandy. In calmer times, Crisfield is famous for its seafood – especially blue crab and oysters – and its picturesque setting.

View from back and front of Worcester County (MD) Extension office.

But after Hurricane Sandy, it was a town with people in serious need and volunteers who didn’t know where their help was needed. On Tuesday evening, Megan shared a Facebook plea from volunteer coordinator John Phoebus in Crisfield. “NEED IMMEDIATE HELP IN CRISFIELD MD. HURRICANE HELP NEEDED : can you help? “Who knows how to integrate Google Maps API with a blog website so we can start pinpointing where people need help in Crisfield for the volunteer effort? I need a volunteer programmer.” He needed help setting up a system, a map to show volunteers were the problems were and what help was needed. Within minutes Megan reposted John’s call for help and Facebook private messaged Extension colleagues from around the country – The University of Maryland, Auburn University, The University of New Hampshire, The University of Missouri, and Texas A & M. These were all contacts who work with GPS, GIS and other computer applications; people she had met or knew of through her eXtension work.

Text messages between Megan and John Phoebus went like this:
8:50 PM (Megan) “I have a GPS Extension expert imma bout to fwd your plea… communicating with 5 people.”
8:51 PM (John) “Oh awesome! I’ve got a hundred volunteers and need to coordinate the efforts.”
9:29 PM (Megan) “I have a lead in New Hampshire stay tuned”
9:39 PM (Megan) “Shane from NH calling you.”
10:06 PM (John) “He just did. This is amazing. You’re amazing. Thank you!”
10:07 PM (Megan) “Shane says, ‘And if I can help more and you need to get in touch with me directly at some point, feel free to call my cell phone. Don’t worry about waking me up.’ He means it. I promise! 10:09 PM (Megan) “Extension is not just cookies and cows anymore.”
10:13 PM (John) “You’re making a believer out of me.”
10:14 PM (Megan) “!”

Within an hour and a half, Shane had talked via phone and Facebook chat with Megan and the volunteer coordinator and guided him through creating a website with an embedded map. In time, volunteered its services for the map. The site is .

Megan says the volunteer coordinator in Crisfield commented he couldn’t believe how well connected she was. Megan’s response, “In, we create and collaborate. We can ask others for help and share what we have. This is exactly what today’s Extension workers should be doing. I have had to defend, many of us have had to defend our online work, but this is a perfect example that working and networking in is on-the-ground work in today’s world.”

Shane added “The power of mapping to document areas of need and direct volunteer activity is immensely powerful in disaster scenarios. Technology awareness really helped in a dire situation by providing an accessible platform for collaboration and shared mission. We in Extension sometimes struggle to document our value, but this shows how getting together in person allowed us to connect quickly online.”