The following video demonstrates the importance of social media during emergencies:
Video credit: from vimeo uploaded by Russell Herder
As showed in the video, social media has proved to be an essential tools for the government and hospital to communicate to the public during the flood in Fargo, North Dakota in March of 2009. Under the urgency of the situation and the need for constant information updates, traditional communication tools such as television, newspaper,etc. became overwhelmed. Phone calls, presumably the most effective communication method for real time information, was not a desirable solution for the situation because of the substantial demand for information from many sources. It is this time that social media had come along to fill the communication gap between the government, hospitals and the residents. Innovis Health, a hospital located in Fargo, used twitter and blogging to communicate with its staff, the media and the community, giving real-time updates on the current state of the hospital and availability of services. In this situation, the advancement of the technology and the pervasive adoption of social media in the public had enhanced social media tools to do what they are best at : mass communication with real-time information along with the allowance of responses/feedback. Obviously, social media was successfully utilized in this case
Now, let’s examine another situation where social media was also used during emergencies:
In 2009, two girls trapped in a storm water drain used Facebook to ask for helprather than calling emergency services from their mobile phones. At the time, authorities were concerned about the girls’ seemingly counterintuitive action.
(From How We Use Social Media During Emergencies byJolie O’Dell)
This demonstrates the situation where social media is obviously misused. Note social media contains the word “social”, which means it (social media) is a tool to communicate to the public, not an individual agency/department/person. Therefore, the two girls had misunderstood the role of social media in communication and shouldn’t be used to judge for the effectiveness of social media in the time of emergencies.
If I were in a natural disaster or some other type of emergencies, I will turn to social media for the most updated information about the situation. Depend on the situation, I will also consider using social media to ask for the help (but not immediate rescue) of the public. For example, I can post pictures or blog about the misery of people who are suffering from the natural disaster and call for assistance with the situation.