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05 October 2010 ~ 0 Comments

How Social Media Is Used During An Emergency

In January, after the Haiti Earthquake struck, if you were on any social network, you couldn’t help but notice the many Tweets and Facebook status messages about it.

The messages were for support or retweeting the news, but beyond that the stream included pleas from people on the ground in Haiti asking for emergency assistance or letting loved ones and friends know they’re okay.

Red Cross Survey

A recent American Red Cross survey showed that many web users would turn to social media to seek help for themselves or others during emergencies—and they expect first responders to be listening.   The online survey asked 1,058 adults about their use of social media sites in emergency situations. It found that if they needed help and couldn’t reach 9-1-1, one in five would try to contact responders through a digital means such as e-mail, websites or social media.

If web users knew of someone else who needed help, 44 percent would ask other people in their social network to contact authorities, 35 percent would post a request for help directly on a response agency’s Facebook page and 28 percent would send a direct Twitter message to responders.  During an emergency, 41% of respondents would use social media to let their love ones know they are safe.

FEMA’s Role In Social Media

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chief Craig Fugate would turn to Twitter and look for relevant tweets when a huge gas explosion occurs, and see if the disaster would spread to other communities.

The movement is backed up by an emerging of a new wave of “digital volunteers” who help spreading useful information using social media. These volunteers may not be involved physically to the disaster but they help to look for important information such as where the affected people can get help and blast it out through social media.

Meanwhile, there are institutions working on harnessing the power of social media, for example, a government contractor called Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI).

According to Russ Johnson, a former firefighter who is now working for ESRI, Fugate’s openness to social media is not common for a government official as many public safety officials are still trying to catch up with social media.

Johnson explained, ESRI takes data from social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Flickr during a disaster, then inputs the data onto maps for first responders.

Have you ever reached out to a social network before, during, or after an emergency?

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