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Social Media and Disaster Relief

Social Media and Disaster Relief

By Ashley Schultz

Over the past few years, we have seen the increase in how social media can help accelerate disaster relief. It seems that disasters are usually at the top of all our news feeds recently, and will increase especially with the start of the 2018 hurricane season. Yet, with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snap Chat the world is constantly updated about what is going on in each of our backyards.

The emergence of social media allows people in danger to tweet/post/share their locations and statuses, when other forms of communication are too busy, too slow, or just not working. I remember during September 11th, cell phone lines were overloaded and many people were not able to keep in touch with loved ones. Yet, if social media had been more prominent at the time, people could have posted that they were safe instead of having others wondering if they were alright.

Each platform allows for quicker response times, localized rescues, and may prevent death. Geo-tagging has been one of the most useful additions to social media. According to the Red Cross, during Hurricane Sandy, over 10,000 Instagram posts with the hashtag #Sandy were posted, per second. Instead of sifting through all the hashtags from everyone worldwide, the Red Cross followed the geo-tagged locations and focused their attention on those areas in need of the most urgent relief.

Twitter offers up-to-date alerts. These allow users to follow accounts such as @fema to receive accurate facts instead of just rumors around emergencies. Facebook has their “Safety Check” notifications that appear in your account if you are in locations where there is a potential for harm. This allows you to respond as “safe” to let loved ones know that you are OK. This feature gives you the ability to check on loved ones by generating a list of friends who might be affected by the disaster. Google has also added a person finder application that allows friends and family to search for the status of a missing person.

Increasingly, cities and governments are creating organized social media disaster strategies to give citizens rapid updates on each situation. Every day social media is proving to be the avenue of communication for information, relief, aid, and showing of support and community strength following all types of disasters.

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