Social Media’s Role in Emergencies Today

Little known fact:  Jack Dorsey created Twitter to increase communication for paramedics.   There’s a short interview with Dorsey on this subject that you can watch here.  Twitter which is now one of the dominant forces in social media was actually designed to help in emergency response, more or less. Interesting.

There’s no denying that today, social media has an increasing role in emergencies and emergency response.  From families being reunited in the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan to a woman and her son being rescued from a kidnapper in Utah, I think it’s safe to say that social media has an important role that goes beyond knowing “what you’re doing right now.” Let’s examine further.

Social Media’s Role in Emergencies Today:

First, let’s acknowledge the fact that 2011 was pretty apocalyptic.  Earthquakes, floods, record breaking snow storms, tornadoes and wild fires made it easy to see why some people questioned whether or not it was the end of the world.   It unfortunately provided a lot of examples to see just exactly how people utilized social media in time of crisis, natural disasters and overall emergencies.

In my research I found SO many examples of social media being utilized that I realized social media is more than just relevant to emergency response, it’s integral to the process.  There were too many examples to choose from so I’m going to discuss a handful.

The devastating earthquake  in Japan prompted many to jump on Facebook and Twitter.  The world discovered news coverage about the event that way and the people who were living that nightmare used it to search for friends and family members.  And that makes sense, right?

The people on your social network know you and know people you know. Secondly, when the phone networks get jammed, you can usually access text messaging or social media.  Not always but it’s proven to be true in enough instances to make it a realistic option.

In all non marketing sincerity, ICEdot is a really good emergency preparedness service because we utilize text messaging in our emergency ID and notification service.  By the way, we didn’t choose that method of communication by coincidence.

The Joplin, MO Tornado hits closer to home as we’re located in Tulsa, OK.  Tornadoes are common here in OK.  We deal with them every year.  But this past year it was Joplin and Tuscaloosa that were so tragically hit.  Many people we know were affected by the Joplin emergency.

One of the best things I read about social media’s role in emergencies, had some really good points in reference to the emergency in Joplin.  They talked about how many people utilized social media after the tornado to let people know they were okay.  They quickly turned to their network to start looking for friends and family.  The last point is probably the least discussed on this topic but just as important.  Social media was then used to look for relief and resources of help.  Very good point.  You can read the whole post on iDisaster 2.0   and in general if you’re interested in this subject this definitely looks like the place to go for information.  Kudos to that blog.

Of course these examples only focused on natural disasters and sadly, man made emergencies can be just as bad, or worse.  Many organizations are formalizing utilizing social media for emergency response.  From Amber Alerts, to police departments posting suspects they’re searching for, social media is no longer just a way to connect with your friends.

Anyone have any examples of their own about how they used the “social network” to help out in an emergency?

Be safe out there,
Natalie @ ICEdot

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