Are the expections of web users unrealistic when it comes to fast emergency response after they tweet or post an urgent request?

Social Media Already an Emergency Staple: Red Cross, FEMA

An online survey of 1,058 adults by the American Red Cross found about 20 percent would try to contact responders via e-mail, websites, or social media if unable to reach 911. Most believe help will come soon after they tweet or post an urgent request.

Social media are becoming critically important for emergency responders and emergency victims, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said Thursday, responding to an American Red Cross online survey of 1,058 adults that was released three days earlier. It showed many web users would use social media to get help for themselves or others during emergencies. More importantly, they expect first responders to be monitoring social media.

The online survey found if respondents needed help but were unable to reach 911, about 20 percent would try e-mail, websites, or social media to contact responders. If they knew of someone else who needed help, 44 percent would ask other people in their social network to contact authorities, 35 percent would post a request for help on a response agency's Facebook page, and 28 percent would send a tweet to responders. ARC said the 69 percent indicated they believe emergency responders should be monitoring social media sites so they can quickly send help, nearly 50 percent believe a response agency responds to any urgent request it sees. Remarkably, 74 percent said they expect help to come within an hour after their tweet or Facebook post.

"The first and best choice for anyone in an emergency situation is to call 911," said Gail McGovern, ARC's president and CEO. "But when phone lines are down or the 911 system is overwhelmed, we know that people will be persistent in their quest for help and use social media for that purpose."

Fugate spoke Thursday at the American Red Cross Emergency Social Data Summit in Washington, for which the survey was conducted, about social media's use in emergencies. "As social media becomes more a part of our daily lives, people are turning to it during emergencies, as well," he said. "We need to utilize these tools, to the best of our abilities, to engage and inform the public, because no matter how much federal, state, and local officials do, we will only be successful if the public is brought in as part of the team."

Fugate said FEMA launched a mobile version of its website, m.fema.gov, earlier this year, created a Facebook page after the Nashville floods to provide updates and resource information, and has made it possible for disaster survivors to register for federal assistance using their smartphones. His video about the new mobile registration feature is here.

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