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BE SAFE: How Social Media Saves Lives

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Social Media is not just for social interaction anymore.

While some might think that websites like Twitter are only good for tracking celebrity exploits, they are proving incredibly useful for disaster preparation and emergency management.
For example, FEMA is adopting social media websites to share information about disasters and coordination efforts. Created in response to the successful use social media following the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the FEMA initiatives aim to harness the power of social media to spread life-saving, instantaneous information.

Social Media in Action

During the recent floods in Australia, social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook were instrumental for organizing-efforts. The emergency services in Queensland relied on social media sites for real-time updates on conditions in different areas. This data was used to allocate limited resources and aided in overall disaster planning.

The Australia floods highlighted the particular strengths of Facebook and Twitter, the two most popular social sites. Twitter proved most valuable as a way to spread information very rapidly and widely. During the floods, there were an estimated 1,200 flood-related status updates to Twitter “Tweets” per hour. The short (140) character lengths and ability to quickly “follow” those who were posting pertinent information allowed many residents to stay safe.

Facebook was utilized for providing more detail and acting as a way to manage relief activities. One of example of this occurred when an area animal shelter was at risk of flooding. Facebook was used to find homes for all of the displaced animals.

In all instances of the use of social media in disasters, the public becomes a valuable resource for helping the efforts of emergency management professionals. Acting as “first responders,” the general public can provide immediate information which can be used to affect the routing of emergency supplies and other emergency management efforts.

For emergency management officials, it’s important to keep an eye on the information flowing from the social media universe. Any grossly erroneous information should be quickly rebutted from official sources since one downside to the speed of social media is that misinformation can proliferate. So it’s important to monitor the social conversation. According to a Red Cross survey, 69 percent of respondents fully expect emergency management agencies to actively monitor and respond to emergency requests via social media sites.

Another recent use of social media was during the January blizzard that affected the Midwest. In Chicago, road clearing management personnel posted real-time progress of plowing efforts using phones or tablet devices. The National Weather service was also involved, through its efforts in spreading alerts through Twitter and Facebook.

Social media use during the floods and other disasters also act as aggregators of public sentiment and concern. Officials can use social media data to prepare official videos or flyers that address particular needs.

Usage of social media is a great medium for members of the general public and official emergency agencies to work together for the common good. By responsibly using the platform, the public can quickly learn what is happening and where they can go to help, while emergency officials can discover where to send rescue teams and allocate resources.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

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