How information flowed during the Great Boston Aquapocalypse

On Saturday, the water main that supplies drinking water to Boston and many surrounding communities burst, leaving 2 million people without clean tap water.

We first heard about it about 3:00 on Saturday afternoon, when the wife of the fellow who is painting our house, called him on his cell phone.  The police, driving through their South Boston neighborhood, told people not to drink untreated tap water through bull horns. About thirty minutes later, Somerville’s Blackboard Connect system called our landline. By that time, I’d logged onto and found that the problem wasn’t confined to South Boston, but affected most of the metro area, and had received a text message from Tufts University, where I work, telling me that everyone on the Medford/Somerville and Boston campuses should boil water.

When I logged onto Facebook, I saw that the first warning of the aquapocalypse was posted by a friend (a real friend, someone who I’ve met in the flesh before connecting with on fb) at 4:29 p.m. The warning had been sent her Blackberry, and stood alone, without citing a source. The next warning, at 4:36 from the Somerville Journal, cited an article with a local t.v. station as the source, and a second post from the Journal provided details, listing communities affected. Over the next hour and a half, I recived warnings from more friends (of varying degress of realness) and then, at 5:51, the Facebook postings changed. They were about the experience (“I’m boiling water. I’m in line at the grocery store buying bottled water.) and nuance (should I boil my pet’s water?) Warnings still trickled in (the last one, from volunteer run watershed association, arrived at 9:18 Sunday morning), but the rapid fire warning phase played out in about an hour and a half.

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