I waffled back and forth on whether or not I wanted to even put this in a blog post. Tuesday night was probably one of the more traumatic things I've witnessed - ever. That includes being shot at when I was living in Chicago. It's one of those things you have to get off your chest. I don't want to lighten what happened or try and recap the official reports. You can read about those details here. There are two sets of families here in Atlanta and New York that are grieving deeply right now. My main ask is that you keep those families in your thoughts and prayers, especially having to deal with loss during a holiday season.
A phone call with my wife around 7:45 Tuesday night.
Me: Hey, don't freak out. I'm okay.
Megan: Okay...what's going on?
Me: Don't panic, there's nothing you can do...but an airplane just crashed behind our house. Wanted you to hear it from me before you saw it on Twitter.
Megan: What?! .....Are you okay?
Megan: Is Theo okay?
Megan: That's the most important thing. Is the house okay?
Me: I think so....? So far anyway...
While having this conversation, I was standing on our back deck watching a fire grow and hearing explosions in the ravine backing up to our yard. Luckily the fire didn't spread to any homes.
The Weirdest Night I Can Remember
Well, it didn't start weird. But Theo (our dog) was sure acting strange .
Megan was out at a work-related dinner and I was at home baking cookies for a few Christmas parties the next day. I had just taken Theo out but he was still pacing the floor acting very stressed out. He was huffing, growling and making weird noises. Sure, he acts weird (he's a dog) but this was abnormal even for him.
As I'm about to take him out again to see if that would calm him down, I heard the sound of a plane getting closer. This wasn't new since we heard planes all the time. Except this time the noise got louder and louder and louder. It felt like the noise was coming right at our house and was deafening at this point. Then it sounded like a missile went over our roof, the fly-by shaking the house. Then there was an explosion as our house was rocked for a second time.
I barely remember the sound of the explosion, but the sound of the plane whizzing by the house is one I'll have in my head for a long time to come.
Is this really happening?
My next door neighbor and I both ran out to our back decks to see if what we thought we heard really happened. We stared in shock as something you really only see in the movies was happening 100 yards from our house. All we could see were flames and could still hear explosions going off from the remaining jet fuel.
First, I called my wife to tell her that everything (so far) was okay as far as myself, Theo and the house went. I then posted a Vine video asking for prayers and went around the block to check on neighbors, not thinking anything about my tweet.
Then my social inbox went nuts
About half an hour later I came in to decompress a bit when I looked at my Tweetdeck dashboard. I had probably the most DMs, @ replies and everything else I've ever had in just a few minutes time. Reporters were wanting quotes, interviews and permission to use my Vine footage.
A couple of days later, a few people asked me if I had a strategy when I posted. Did I use a specific hashtag? Did I tag news outlets? No.
I had no strategy. I wasn't trying to go viral or broadcast the event so everyone would know what happened. I just posted a really poorly shot Vine video from my deck. A plane exploded behind my house. The last thing on my mind were "social media best practices."
Eventually, that Vine video would be used by @ABC to break the news on Twitter and embedded in newspapers all over the country, including one in the London Daily Mail.
How did it spread so fast?
I had some good friends here in Atlanta retweet my tweet, trying to spread awareness for prayers. Also, for a while, that apparently was the only source of info online. I think a few people pinged the AJC on Twitter wanting more info. Then things took off from there.
I learned a few things from this:
- The best or most "authoritative" content isn't always what catches on. A few neighbors were closer to the damage and shared much more clear imagery later on. My Vine quality was poor. But it was first.
- As much as we get on news organizations for wanting to be "first" instead of "accurate," there is a tendency to latch onto the source that breaks the news first, for better or worse.
- Sometimes, strategy means nothing.
- In a time of crisis, our neighborhood is awesome.
- Never take anything for granted. Ever. Your next breath isn't guaranteed - even if you're just sitting in your kitchen baking cookies.
It was a night I know my neighbors, my wife and the families will not forget.