In January, after the Haiti Earthquake struck, if you were participating on social networks, you couldn’t help but notice the many, many Tweets and Facebook status messages about the Haiti Earthquake. The messages included pleas for support or retweeting the news, but beyond that the stream included pleas from people on the ground in Haiti asking for emergency assistance or letting loved ones and friends know they’re okay.
A new American Red Cross survey shows many web users would turn to social media to seek help for themselves or others during emergencies—and they expect first responders to be listening. The online survey asked 1,058 adults about their use of social media sites in emergency situations. It found that if they needed help and couldn’t reach 9-1-1, one in five would try to contact responders through a digital means such as e-mail, websites or social media. If web users knew of someone else who needed help, 44 percent would ask other people in their social network to contact authorities, 35 percent would post a request for help directly on a response agency’s Facebook page and 28 percent would send a direct Twitter message to responders. During an emergency, 41% of respondents would use social media to let their love ones know they are safe.
Social media has radically changed how people communicate, including their calls for help. As we have seen in natural disasters from Hurricane Katrina to the Chile Earthquake, people are using social media to reach out for help. And they expect a response from emergency and disaster response organizations.
To meet this growing challenge, the American Red Cross is launching an initiative to address how to reply to these digital cries for help more effectively. This ranges from online discussion of the issue to hosting an Emergency Social Data Summit – or #crisisdata on Twitter on Thursday August 12, 2010, in Washington, D.C., with government agencies, emergency management professionals, disaster response organizations, tech companies and concerned citizens.
The Summit brings together emergency responders, government officials like the White House’s Macon Phillips, technologists like Robert Scoble and Christopher Penn and civilians like CrisisCommon’s Heather Blanchard to discuss exactly how to address these digital cries for help more effectively.
Disclosure: My company Zoetica and more specifically my co-founders Geoff Livingston and Kami Huyse have been working with the Red Cross to develop a strategy for this summit for the past two months. Geoff Livingston has shared a post this morning from a personal perspective about why how social media is impacting emergency response, the compelling reason for the Emergency Data Summit.
As Geoff describes in more detail, the Summit conversation will use established and more experimental social media tools and platforms to involve people who are not in the room in the discussion. This includes a a wiki, Twitter conversations during the conference via the #crisisdata hashtag, Flickr photos and U-Stream (to be provided by NextGenWeb).
On the blogging side, while the main event page is on WordPress, Geoff will be using a posterous blog for updates about the conference and to publish early chapters of #crisisdata white paper. He will, of course, share his insights about the tool for this purpose.
In addition to using Foursquare and Gowalla for conference attendees to check in and leave tips, the conference will also experiment with Whrrl, a geo location crowdsourced storytelling application. Conference attendees will be asked to download and join the Emergency Data Society. This will facilitate a self-organized, community scrapbook of the event from attendees. Again, expect a full report from Zoetica about how this worked as a tool as a back channel and documentation tool for the conference.
I won’t be at the event in Washington, DC, but I’ll be participating via #crisisdata on Twitter and exploring Whrrl. Hope you will too.