Up until 24 hours ago, I thought “Sandy” was only one of two things: the heroin in the production of Grease, or the way I like my beaches.
But alas, we have one more meaning to add to the list. Hurricane Sandy promises to be what many newscasters have termed “The Perfect Storm” for folks living in the northeastern U.S.
This leaves the question for Armchair Advocates: How is social media changing the face of disaster response? How has it helped or hindered the way we respond to a “Perfect Storm?”
Take the devastating earthquake in Japan, for example. It demonstrated once again the growing importance of social media in emergency situations. While conventional telephone lines became quickly overwhelmed during thedisaster, many mobile devices or Internet connections remained functional and easily accessible. In fact, as many as 4 billion people around the world now use mobile phones. As a result, disaster relief agencies have transformed their response strategies to tap into this resource.
This past spring, for example, the American Red Cross and Dell launched a new Digital Operations Center, the first social media-based operation devoted to humanitarian relief. Located in the Red Cross National Disaster Operations Center in Washington, D.C., the center is modeled after Dell’s Social Media Listening Command Center and uses Dell technology solutions and consulting services. The center will help expand the Red Cross’s ability to engage with the public during emergencies. Tests run during recent tornadoes in the Midwest enabled Red Cross team members to determine where to position workers on the ground. Tools like heat maps also helped visualize spikes and prevalent themes in social conversations, contributing to relief-response strategies
“The use of social media during disasters has grown exponentially in recent years, and this partnership with Dell will enable us to better understand and anticipate disaster needs and help connect people with the resources they need during emergencies,” said Gail J. McGovern, president and CEO of the Red Cross. “Our goal is to become a social liaison for people, families and communities to support one another before, during and after disasters.”
A Red Cross survey revealed that the Internet now is the third most commonly used way for people to get emergency-related information; nearly a fourth of the general public and a third of the online population would use social media to let loved ones know they are safe. The survey found that people use social media during disasters to get updates, seek and give help, and connect with loved ones.
Social media has become a critical component of disaster response efforts conducted by the Red Cross and other response agencies. While social media complements existing traditional response efforts, 9-1-1 remains the best first action to take when a person needs emergency assistance.
For readers that may be in the zone of Sandy’s trajectory, please stay safe, stay prepared and, of course stay informed.
[Source: Check out a fantastic article published last year in TIME Magazine on the use of social media in disasters. Also, visit American Red Cross for more information about their new disaster response team.]