Social media, what’s your emergency?

Usually when I consider what social media means to me, I think about how it connects me to my friends and family, how it can be used for entertainment or how it can be used for marketing purposes and managing my online reputation. When in reality, social media can offer so much more than that. In fact social media can save lives.

(File:Emergency plate.svg, 2008, Mr. MattéCC BY 2.0)

I’m talking about emergency communication, and how social media has revolutionised the way we communicate, particularly during a crisis. These days I find myself tuning into Facebook and Twitter for updates about daily news and current affairs, instead of waiting until the evening to watch scheduled television, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this – so I took to twitter to find out, and it would appear that many others do the same.

Social media is at my fingertips 24/7, with all the most recent and relevant information available at the touch of a button. Therefore it’s no surprise that procedures of emergency communication have adapted to include social media as part of their crisis management plan.

Unfortunately, as is discussed in Donaldson’s article, it often takes a catastrophe to recognise that change is required. For Victoria, this catastrophe was the 2009 Black Saturday fires. The death of hundreds was cause enough to realise that something needed to change. And this is where social media comes in. Social media allows for governments or organizations to ‘disseminate information and monitor feedback’ during an emergency situation. It can be used to notify people of a danger in the area, and also allow people to report important information back about the situation.

Social media offers an immediate global reach, and the flexibility and agency that is required when dealing with an emergency.  As Donaldson states, the current expectation is that everybody is using social media. Many organisations have jumped on board of the social media train, recognising its potential to save people’s lives in a crisis.

The Victorian SES organisation frequently use social media for the purpose of disseminating information to the public warning them about current events and disasters that are relevant to their safety. Given the very recent and disastrous flooding that occurred in Victoria over the last weeks, which affected several homes with flood damage and power outages, SES Victoria were actively covering these events over their social media accounts, and regularly post updates and flood warnings.

Donaldson also argues that while forms of emergency communication are usually accompanied by long clearance periods for ethical and legal purpose concerning the accuracy of information, this delay often causes issues during a crisis because information is required at the time of emergency for any action to be taken. Social media can offer a solution, and while information may not always be 100% accurate, this holds a better outcome than withholding information from the public.


So what can social media offer in times of crisis?

  1. Allows you to get information out ASAP
  2. Set up notifications to keep a tab on current events
  3. Tag, share or message people in your contact list to notify them of current issues
  4. Offers live reporting
  5. Allows you to upload a range of different media/content include images/videos/audio
  6. Send/Receive quick replies

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