When social media and disasters collide

New survey data released this week put numbers behind what many of us already knew – in disaster situations, people would turn to social media to seek help for themselves and others in trouble. And, not only would they use it, they also would expect emergency workers to be paying attention.

The American Red Cross survey shows that 74 percent of web users who reach out during an emergency using social media expect first responders to answer their call within one hour.

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.

With its history in disaster response and relief, it’s little surprise that the Red Cross tops the leader board when it comes to the use of social media in disasters and emergencies. Today they held the first Emergency Social Data Summit in Washington, DC, to discuss the most effective ways to respond to these “digital cries for help.”

Call me a geek, but I just think everything about it is awesome. I think the fact that the web and social media have become places where people reach out for help and know that someone is listening is awesome. I think that putting government agencies, disaster response organizations, super-smart techie geeks and concerned citizens in the same room to talk about it, for an entire day, is awesome. All of it – it’s awesome.

I know it doesn’t mean people are going to stop using 911 as their first call for help in an emergency, but people now have a little added sense of relief that they can post a tweet or a status message and someone will do something to help. Just think of how you would react if a friend posted a message online asking for help – if you couldn’t help out personally, you’d do your best to make sure that message makes it into the hands of someone who could.

Now that organizations like the Red Cross are putting together detailed response plans for responding to calls for help via social media, their work and the work of every relief organization out there is going to get better. And I think that’s just awesome.

So, I think that’s enough “awesomeness” for today. What do you think? Why do you think people are turning to social media during disasters? Would you call for help on Twitter?

Social Media in Disasters and Emergencies, American Red Cross slides (pdf)

About the Red Cross Emergency Social Data Summit, American Red Cross blog

Categories: Social media

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