FINAL REPORT: The Use of Social Media in Disaster Response

“There has been a lot of discussion in the disaster sector on the use of social media and mobile applications for preparedness and response,” says DomPrep40 member Joseph C. Becker, senior vice president of disaster services at the American Red Cross (ARC).  In leading the ARC’s responses to recent disasters, Becker has seen the potential of social media to greatly improve the way people in need connect with those who can help.   The recent Haiti response is a case in point where service improved as a result – and led Becker to question what implications such use poses for policies and procedures, both for response organizations and governments.

Cities, counties, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been using social media as an additional means to interact, both prior to a disaster and during the event itself.  “I am particularly concerned over how social media create an expectation for expressing need when they become the surrogate ‘9-1-1’ when regular services, voice communications, are disrupted by a disaster,” says Becker.  If text services and the Internet remain intact, then the key question is how jurisdictions and rescue services can tie into texting and mobile social media applications – which the users assume will link into a back-end response system that delivers.  “The problem in Haiti was that in many cases there was no mechanism for an expression of need by text to connect with organizations that could help,” says Becker.

Becker drafted this survey for the DP40 and DomPrep members to assess their opinions on the use of social media in disaster response.  The issues are important and may require the setting of policies – particularly in view of the legal ramifications involved with regard to liability. 

Key Findings:  DomPrep readers and experts agree: The use of social media in disasters is increasing.  But organizations and jurisdictions do not have adequate capability and scalability to connect urgent requests via social media to response units.  Liability issues need to be addressed.

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