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Social media in an emergency

Thursday, April 03, 2014 9:08 AM | Deleted user
“The convergence of social networks and mobile has thrown the old response playbook out the window.” -Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association

When an emergency strikes, clear and effective communication is key to saving lives and reducing confusion that can cause even more damage. The more channels the better. The rise in popularity of social media is changing the way we all communicate, and that includes emergency communication.

Social media provides both a way for an affected community to get information about what’s happening, but also a way for security professionals to keep up with real-time street level activity. During Hurricane Sandy, photos and information flowed in from affected citizens and helped authorities understand the severity of the situation.  

The Boston Marathon bombing is another example of how social media is changing emergency communication. Immediately following the bombing, 26% of Americans looked to social media for news and updates http://www.people-press.org/files/2013/04/4-23-13-3.png regarding the incident. When the Boston City Police captured the suspect, their “CAPTURED!” tweet was quickly shared over 100,000 times https://twitter.com/bostonpolice/status/325413032110989313 letting the locked-down community know they were safe almost instantaneously.


Social media moves very quickly, making it a great way to share updates that require fast response. Users look to social media for real-time updates, and they can receive social media updates from mobile devices.  

Unfortunately, because information moves so quickly, misinformation also spreads fast on social media. False information can put people in danger, and when using social media for emergency communication, it’s important to educate a community on how it will be used and how to verify information.


Even when cell service is down, if a community has access to the internet, they are looking for and sharing information on social media.

Keeping lines of communication open

This past January, a snowfall paralyzed the entire city of Atlanta, https://idisaster.wordpress.com/category/social-media-and-emergency-management/ prompted a shelter in place order and left children stranded in schools. What could have been a nightmare communication scenario was handled expertly by the Atlanta Public School’s communication team using social media. They used Twitter to address parental concerns directly, dispel rumors and to keep updates going out around the clock. Twitter was only one of many social media platforms used to keep the community informed of what was happening. During the emergency, social media was also integrated into the school websites and blogs.

The addition of social media to the emergency communication toolbox will not mean the end of the Emergency Broadcast System or other communication efforts, it will simply add another layer of communication, an incredibly valuable one.

Is your organization using social media as part of your emergency communication plan, and if so, how?

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