Earthquakes, Hurricanes and Twitter – Oh My!

On Tuesday afternoon, an earthquake shook the nerves of everyone on the east coast. After running out of my apartment building with my two cats thinking the problem lay solely with my building and not the rest of the coast, I jumped on Twitter to tweet about the oddity of my situation. However, to my surprise my Twitter feed was clogged with frantic, overly excited tweets full of clever hashtags about our first east coast earthquake. I then followed my stream pretty closely for the next few hours to stay up-to-date about the evacuations occurring in Center City, issues with Septa transportation and information about any damage that occurred in Virginia, my home state.

As soon as I thought my Twitter feed had returned to the pre-apocolyptic tone that I’m used to, Hurricane Irene has now become one of the top trending topics, with breaking news alerts, minute-to-minute updates on cancellations and evacuations and the constant paranoid tweets from those who are preparing for the end of the world this weekend. I can honestly say that throughout the whole mother nature fiasco, I have not turned on the news once. Instead, I have used Twitter as my sole means of staying informed about these current weather emergencies.

The American Red Cross released a press release on Wednesday and through telephone and online surveys, proved that more Americans are using social media and technology in cases of emergency (although I’m sure none of us are surprised). But still, exactly how dependent are we on social media to keep us safe and informed? The survey findings included the following:

  • 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.
  • For those who would post a request for help through social media, 39 percent of those polled online and 35 of those polled via telephone said they would expect help to arrive in less than one hour.

This increased use in social media is causing response agencies such as the Red Cross to adjust their procedures to use social media more in order to engage with people in times of disaster in addition to including information from social networks in their response efforts. Some of these efforts include the creation of two free mobile applications, one that provides shelter locations and the “American Red Cross SOS” app that teaches first aid and CPR. Additionally, they have integrated Facebook and Twitter into the Safe and Well site that allows people to register they are safe and update social media statuses to let them know how they are doing.

These new efforts are a clear reflection on the way society prepares for and handles various emergencies , and although many still rely on more traditional news sources, social media is now at the forefront for the quickest way to disseminate important information. I will be the first to admit that at times like these with Irene approaching, the constant bombardment of tweets and status updates can get to be a little excessive. However all of the information I need to know is there and easily accessible, leaving me prepared for any situation or emergency.

To read the rest of the American Red Cross release, click here.

How do you stay informed in the case of emergencies and disasters? How do you feel about the way the dissemination of information has evolved? Let us know!

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