Florida Live map of live tweets (courtesy Visit Florida)One of the best uses of social media is to engage the public directly, with the latest information available, when there is a crisis.

The Visit Florida tourism organization (a pretty well-oiled machine even without a crisis!) is harnessing the power of webcams, photos and live Twitter reports from humans on a new website page; it’s called Florida Now.

Rather than, er, sticking their heads in the sand about tourists avoiding the coast for fear of oil spill problems, they’re trying to gather eyewitness reports (particularly from beach areas) and make them easily searchable and accessible, so that people can see coastal destinations and make their own travel decisions.

In addition to graphics, there is a link to the Deepwater Horizon response team at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, plus links to specific CVB and DMO organizations across all of the regions in the state.

Visitors want to see for themselves. Make it easy for them.

Nice work, Florida.

Update: I noticed this tweet from Robert Reid (US editor for Lonely Planet and author of the excellent Reid on Travel blog.)

“Going to Florida? @visitflorida posting#oilspill updates, ‘real time’ photos; they promised to me they’ll keep doing even IF oil comes. #lp

Note that even if things go bad, Florida tourism plans to let those real-time reports roll on in.