Social Media and Disasters

This past week I experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake and Hurricane Irene. In both instances, I immediately went to Facebook and Twitter to see what was happening.

Twitter birdWith the earthquake, I discovered it was felt up and down the East Coast but that I was not far from the epicenter. I was able to quickly connect with friends who wanted to know if I was okay. I learned that there were no injuries but there was property damage at the center.

I’m not alone in finding information out about disasters through social media. According to two new surveys conducted by the American Red Cross, Americans are relying more and more on social media, mobile technology and online news outlets to learn about ongoing disasters, seek help and share information about their well-being after emergencies.

Facebook icon“Social media is becoming an integral part of disaster response,” says Wendy Harman, director of social strategy for the American Red Cross.

Key findings include:

  • Followed by television and local radio, the internet is the third most popular way for people to gather emergency information with 18 percent of both the general and the online population specifically using Facebook for that purpose.
  • Nearly a fourth (24 percent) of the general population and a third (31 percent) of the online population would use social media to let loved ones know they are safe.
  • Four of five (80 percent) of the general and 69 percent of the online populations surveyed believe that national emergency response organizations should regularly monitor social media sites in order to respond promptly.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s earthquake the Federal Emergency Management Agency urged people to incorporate social media elements into their natural disaster and emergency-preparedness plans.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told reporters that Tuesday’s earthquake demonstrated an over-reliance on cell phones during an emergency.

Mobile networks were overburdened in the immediate aftermath of the quake as people tried to reach friends and family. Cell phone texting, however, remain unaffected and became a popular and reliable alternative.