Social media emerge as digital avenue for emergency response

Three out of four Web users expect help within the hour after a Facebook post or Tweet seeking assistance

Many people are now using Facebook postings and Twitter to report emergencies or call for help -- and they expect government response agencies to be paying attention, according to a new survey.

The American Red Cross’ “Social Media and Disasters and Emergencies” survey of 1,058 adults indicates that 18 percent would turn to digital social media if calls to 911 were unsuccessful.

Sixty nine percent of the adults surveyed said emergency response agencies should regularly monitor their Web sites and social media networks so they can respond promptly to requests for help posted there; 74 percent said they would expect help to arrive in an hour.

Fifty-two percent said they would send a text message to an agency on behalf of someone they knew who needed help.


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If the Web users knew someone who needed emergency help, 44 percent said they would ask other people in their social network to contact appropriate 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.

Red Cross officials said the survey illustrates that the public is using social media for emergencies and public agencies need to be ready to respond.

“The social web is creating a fundamental shift in disaster response — one that will ask emergency managers, government agencies and aid organizations to mix time-honored expertise with real-time input from the public,” Gail McGovern, American Red Cross president, said in a news release. “We need to work together to better respond to that shift.”

 

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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