To Tweet or Not To Tweet

The use of social media during national and international crises is clearly on the rise.  More and more people are turning to sites like Twitter for breaking news from trusted sources and the public alike.  A recent survey revealed that almost half of respondents said they would use social media in the event of a disaster to let relatives and friends know they were safe.

Take a look at this interesting infographic, courtesy of CreditLoan via Mashable, showing the rise of social media in emergency response.

Social Media in Emergencies Infographic

The Federal Emergency Management Agency currently maintains a Twitter account with roughly 30,000 followers, in order to communicate valuable information before, during and after any type of emergency or disaster.

FEMA monitors forecasts from the National Weather Service and links from official emergency management agencies looking for key information to include in Tweets advising the public in the affected area. Recently the agency issued a message about a winter storm: “Another #winterstorm for OK, north TX & New Mexico tonight/tmrw. Prepare at & follow @okem @txdps @NMDHSEM.”

FEMA also monitors social media to anticipate needs for a predicted disaster. For example, monitoring the Twitter feed during Hurricane Earl in September 2010, FEMA noted that although tourists were evacuating, many long-term residents were choosing to stay put. That gave the agency advance notice to create search and rescue plans for the affected area.

Social media can have its drawbacks as well.  Recently an unauthorized and embarrassing tweet was posted on the account of The American Red Cross. A Red Cross social media specialist accidentally sent a rogue tweet out on the organization’s Twitter feed: “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer… when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd.”  The tweet was visible for about an hour before it was taken down.  In a show of humor and PR savvy, the Red Cross issued a tweet acknowledging the mistake: “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.” Thanks to quick action and deft handling of the situation, the Red Cross has recovered well from the incident.

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