The role of social media continuously grows in response to society’s needs. In particular, Facebook and Twitter have shown to be especially helpful in speeding up responses to natural disasters and health emergencies. Social media allows information to travel around in the world in seconds. Facebook and Twitter are used as tools to quickly disseminate news about the most important current issues. They can be particularly helpful when it comes to involving the broader public in responses to emergencies.
“By sharing images, texting and tweeting, the public is already becoming part of a large response network, rather than remaining mere bystanders or casualties,” said the U.S. team led by Dr Raina Merchant, an emergency medicine expert from the University of Pennsylvania.
Further, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, social media can allow emergencies to be handled in a “quicker, more co-ordinated, effective way,” essentially making emergency management more efficient.
As users post news to their audiences, millions of people quickly become involved in a single conversation. This type of media outreach can be extremely helpful when situations require speedy emergency responses.
For example, Twitter enables off-duty nurses or paramedics to broadcast their willingness to help in nearby emergencies.
A few other examples include:
- RSS (Really Simple Syndication), which public health planners can use along with mobile apps to gage the strain on healthcare systems and divert patients to the best resourced facilities during a disaster.
- The web-based “buddy” systems which allow friends and neighbors to keep track of at-risk people during heat waves or cold snaps, enabling them to connect those in trouble with social services and medical care. This is perhaps the friendliest example of technological emergency management.
- During the clean-up operation after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, texting of locations of oil-covered birds and the most affected areas helped community residents assist. Researchers add that the use of GPS-linked mobile phone apps, such as Foursquare and Loopt could also aid disaster preparedness and response.
The technology of social media has even allowed public officials to “push” information out to the public sphere while simultaneously “pulling” in valuable data from bystanders.
An example of social media in action was seen during the 2009 swine flu epidemic:
The US Department of Health held a “Mommycast” over YouTube and iTunes which helped to keep one million viewers updated about the disease. At the same time, regional health departments drew people to vaccination sites within minutes of texting and tweeting about shot availability. Within a year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s @CDCemergency Twitter following grew 20-fold.
The possibilities of the helpful role social media can play in emergencies seem endless. Indeed, social media technology may lead to a more certain future for tactical emergency management solutions.
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