Social media replacing 911?

20% now use social media to ask for help

This has to be one of the most frightening and troubling thoughts for many in emergency management. I was shocked to see this report that says now about 20% of survivors of a disaster use social media to contact responders--and 44% of those contact use a responder's Facebook page to contact. 

That is only one surprising statistic in this infographic summarizing disasters and how people use social media in disasters. It might not be a bad idea to print this very visual and informative guide and post it up on a lunch room wall. If nothing else, it will serve as a reminder of how much the world of emergency management is changing.

The gut reaction of many will be to say, well, they just can't do that. We can't be monitoring all those channels. There is no assurance that we will respond. Indeed, I believe it is best practice on any agency or personal responder Twitter page or Facebook page to let visitors know that contact through this channel will not guarantee response and that 911 should be used for any emergency.

But, it's one thing to say they can't do it, its another thing to stop the incoming tide. The fact is, people using social media and text messages, and relaying messages to others to summon help, is now part of our emergency management reality. Certainly one of the easiest ways to incorporate this use is to enable easy texting for help and that is exactly what the FCC is doing by enabling text to 911. Much better to do this than to have every agency establish their own text shortcode. 

I remember the story of a couple of years ago of a 10 year old girl in Australia falling into an abandoned well. Fortunately she had her cellphone with her. Did she call 000, the Australian equivalent of 911? No, never occurred to her apparently. The phone she carried was used to communicate with her friends through text and Facebook. So that's what she did and one of them called 000. When we start understanding that for a great many in our communities, the device they carry with them is a texting and social media interaction tool, it will become more acceptable that they will use these methods of reaching out and asking for help. Besides, what's the chance of cellphone and landline service being available in many major disasters?