Red Cross widening crisis response via social media venues

Online messaging augments and supplements traditional emergency communications.

Online messaging augments and supplements traditional emergency communications

The American Red Cross has a message for anyone who thinks Twitter and Facebook are just places for people to discuss what they had for lunch: A social networking site might save your life.

“The social media platform makes it very easy for people to organize communities and information,” says Jackie Mitchell, director of marketing and communication for the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. “We really hope this could be a mechanism for us to communicate in a disaster.”

A recent Red Cross survey (PDF) of more than 1,000 adults who regularly use the Web found that 69 percent want emergency responders to monitor social media for users needing assistance. About 74 percent expect help to arrive within an hour.

Half the respondents said they think aid workers are already finding information about emergencies on social media sites, which is true. But the Red Cross and other agencies are trying to do more.

The Red Cross conducted the survey in advance of an Aug. 12 summit in Washington that brought together emergency responders, government officials and social media gurus to determine how the Web can be used to deal with disasters and other crises.

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