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Social Media Uses in Emergency Management Responses

Edmund was in charge of the ER for the first time when a paramedic call came through. The main stage at a local music festival had collapsed in the middle of a concert. The paramedic only conveyed that people were trapped and to expect the worst.

Twitter has been successfully during mass casualty emergencies to convey critical information

Stage collapse during Toronto's Canada Day's Bluefest celebrations

Image Credit: http://www.kevinmd.com/blog

Edmund didn’t want to overreact and close the hospital to non-essential procedures or call in off-duty personnel if it was not needed.  He needed more details, but the paramedics were not answering their phones (of course, they were busy at the scene).

He wasn’t sure how to get more information until a patient pulled out her mobile phone and checked to see what was being said on Twitter. Edmund and the staff continued to monitor Twitter throughout the event.

The updates included “Paramedics searching. .  .no one seems hurt!” and “Stage down! Everyone running – but no one hurt!” Edmund did not call in off-duty personnel or shut down the hospital to non-essential procedures thanks to Twitter.

This is a real-life experience of Edmund Kwok, M.D. who relived his first night-in-charge in a blog post titled, “How Twitter was used in a potential mass casualty scenario.”

The Public Takes A Role

Social media is branching out into some unexpected places. One of these places is in emergency management response.

The increasing use of social media in public communications during crises and disasters now puts the public at the center of a crisis, conveying important information and response needs.

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management “proposes a four-channel model of communication, incorporating newer mobile technologies such as cell phones and Internet-based tools like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and Google Maps as a way to build a more robust emergency management communication structure than currently found in command centers for large-scale emergencies.”

Emergency Social Media Resources

Kim Stephens, with idisaster 2.0 Social Media and Emergency Management, put together a comprehensive list of resources for effective ways social media can be used in emergency management. Topics for developing these resources include:

  • How people with access and functional needs can use social networking to overcome social isolation.
  • An option for communicating during an emergency (particularly to the deaf community).
  • How social media can help people cope with disaster.
  • How best to communicate in accessible formats to the greatest number of people.

Key Takeaway

Social media has many roles to play in our lives. Natural disasters and mass-casualty emergencies always result in people needing and wanting to be informed. Twitter helped Edmund make a more informed decision when his onsite personnel weren’t able to respond. Social media can be utilized in emergency response plans.

Over to you: Have you used social media in an emergency management plan? Please share your experience with our readers.

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