A recent American Red Cross survey asked 1,058 adults about their use of social media sites in emergency situations. They found that if people needed help and couldn’t reach 911, one in five would try to contact responders through a digital means such as email, 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.
In the five years since Hurricane Katrina, social media has exploded and is used very effectively in crises situations. This was made clear after the Haiti earthquake. According to Patrick Meier, Director of Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi, is a platform that unifies data gathered from multiple sources such as SMS, email, and the web, and then distributes this information into a visual map or timeline. This system was used after the earthquake to map actionable information using the volunteer efforts of thousands or people around the world.
According to Craig Fugate, Administrator of FEMA, the rapid exponential growth of social media and the bells and whistles of new technology are here, and the public’s use of social media in crises is growing One of the many challenges is the need and the ability of first responders and governments to be able to monitor this information and be able to act on it in a timely manner. For example, Merni Fitzgerals, Public Affairs Director for the Fairfax County Virginia government, notes that while her county’s 911 system operates 24/7, no one is monitoring social media 24/7.
In a June 2020, survey of the DomPrep40, an advisory board of disaster response practitioners and opinion leaders, nine out of ten respondents report they are not staffed to monitor social media applications and respond to a major event. Furthermore, 90 percent of respondents also felt that the public expects some action performed based on social media applications.