From large scale natural disasters such as Haiti, to neighbourhood the-girls-are-stuck-in-the-drain scares, social media is changing the way we communicate in times of emergencies.
We all know twitter is a real time source of communication – exactly what is needed in an emergency response when every second counts. Social media not only facilitates a mass communication outlet for a victim of an emergency but also allows individuals to become part of the emergency response itself.
In a recent study conducted by American Red Cross the majority of online users said they would use social media to seek help for themselves or others during an emergency. And then almost 3 out of 4 people said that they would expect help to come less than an hour after they posted their call for help on twitter or facebook.
Governments and aid organizations are attempting to step up and put resources behind strategies to monitor this valuable online chatter. But whether they currently have the means to effectively use the information coming in is up for debate. Organisations are pushing us back to traditional forms of communication when an emergency strikes, and encouraging the public to use the emergency phone lines for the first point of call over relying on twitter or facebook to instigate a response.
Not only are there questions of monitoring the content, but also the standard authenticity and privacy issues that are tripping up the authorities. (Is little Jimmy, really little Jimmy, and did he fall down the well?)
“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,” said Gail McGovern, American Red Cross president and CEO. “We need to work together to better respond to that shift.”
There is no doubt that social media is an invaluable resource for local emergency teams, governments and international aid organisations. And the more reliant that we as the public become on the inter-web for day -to-day comms, the heavier the reliance will be on it during a time of emergency. But how the public and the experts can work together to leverage the benefits of this live feed of situation updates is the question.
Would you expect some-one to respond if you posted a call for help on twitter?