3 Ways Twitter has Changed Emergency Response

It is no secret that social media has changed the way that we engage and interact with each other. We can stay up to date with everything that is happening in our friends and families’ lives: new jobs, engagements, new babies, and every other happening that someone feels compelled to share. However, it has also allowed us to get real time feedback on major incidents that might be happening. Specifically, looking back to the earthquake in 2011 that shook the east coast, many people (myself included) took to Twitter to check what had just happened and confirm that it was in fact a minor event. Twitter’s ability to provide a real time feed of information around events has innovated emergency response in many ways. Here are three key examples:

1. Real Time Information and Updates for Civilians

As a civilian, it has never been easier to get the latest updates on major incidents. Instead of tuning in to the news, we can search trending topics to get the latest updates about these scenarios and see a feed of crowdsourced information. Not only can we access real time information, but we can also see media from individuals that are close to the event. However, we can also better evaluate the severity of any nearby incidents to make a judgement call on whether an evacuation or other safety steps might be required

2. Twitter Alerts

Users can now subscribe to Twitter Alerts which enables participating organizations to push text notifications to users regarding relevant information and updates during any emergencies, natural disasters, or other times when normal communication services might be disrupted. During these types of scenarios, communication to civilians is key, and Twitter Alerts opens up an additional communication channel to the communities at hand. You can learn more about the service here: https://blog.twitter.com/2013/twitter-alerts-critical-information-when-you-need-it-most

3. Data and Information Immediately Available to Emergency Responders

Similarly to how civilians have access to real time updates on an incident, emergency responders are now able to use Twitter to get data on an incident to improve response effectiveness. A team in Nashua, NH was one such team to use this information as highlighted in a Government Technology article:

The emergency management team in Nashua, N.H., participated in a cross-border disaster preparedness exercise with Canadian agencies to evaluate how digital volunteers and social media can be incorporated in the official emergency response to address alerts, warnings and notifications as well as mutual aid. A short time later, over Thanksgiving weekend, a powerful nor’easter hit New Hampshire, causing multiple accidents and power outages. ‘We ended up using skills learned during the exercise right away,’ said Justin Kates, Nashua’s director of emergency management. ‘Through social media posts, our digital volunteers were tracking roads that were closed and compiling that info onto GIS maps to help first responders direct resources, clear trees from roads and restore power.’
— http://www.govtech.com/social/First-Responders-Experiment-with-Social-Media-in-Disaster-Response.html

Access to this kind of data could make the difference in a disaster and arms the first responders on the ground with the information they need to make smart decisions. Twitter’s crowdsourced information feed is a powerful tool and will continue to be used in more intelligent ways during emergency response situations.

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