More Americans Using Social Media in Emergencies: Red Cross

The survey findings show that the increasing use of social media and mobile technologies to get disaster information and to seek help should cause response agencies to adjust their procedures to use social media more to engage with people in times of disaster.

Americans are relying more and more on social media, mobile technology, and online news outlets to learn about ongoing disasters, seek help, and share information about their well-being after emergencies, according to two new surveys conducted by the American Red Cross.

The surveys, one by telephone of the general population and a second online survey, continue to show that the vast majority of Americans believe response organizations should be both monitoring social media during disasters and acting quickly to help.

“Social media is becoming an integral part of disaster response,” said Wendy Harman, director of social strategy for the American Red Cross. “During the record-breaking 2011 spring storm season, people across America alerted the Red Cross to their needs via Facebook. We also used Twitter to connect to thousands of people seeking comfort, and safety information to help get them through the darkest hours of storms.”

Key findings include:

  • 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 quarter (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 out of five (80 percent) of the general population and 69 percent of the online population 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.

The surveys, which polled 1,011 telephone respondents and 1,046 online respondents, found that those from the online survey population use a variety of technologies to learn more about disasters and share information about their well-being, including Facebook, Twitter, text alerts, online news sites, and smart phone applications, suggesting that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to using these tools during disasters.

In contrast, people participating in the telephone survey tended to be more reliant on traditional media and non-social websites like those belonging to local news outlets, government agencies, or utility companies. The Red Cross survey also found that women and households with children are more likely to use social media channels to inform others of their safety.

The survey findings show that the increasing use of social media and mobile technologies to get disaster information and to seek help should cause response agencies to adjust their procedures to use social media more to engage with people in times of disaster and to include information from social networks in their response efforts.

“Calling 911 is always the best first action to take when a person needs emergency assistance, but this survey shows there is an opportunity for emergency responders to meaningfully engage their communities on the social Web,” said Trevor Riggen, senior director of disaster services for the American Red Cross. “Traditional media such as television and radio are still important ways to reach people with emergency information but the social Web offers a chance for emergency responders to understand in real time what their communities care about and need—and to become part of the fabric of the community.”

On an average day, the Red Cross is mentioned 3,000 times in the social media space. During a disaster, those mentions grow exponentially and range from people asking for help to those looking for a way to help their neighbors to suggestions for monetary donations.

For more information and to view the full survey, visit www.redcross.org.

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