Using social networking sites for emergency response may seem a tad farfetched for those old school responders, but in times when even my grandmother is on Facebook, what better way to reach hundreds of contacts in five minutes? Facebook, along with other social networking sites like Twitter, have revolutionized the way we communicate. With one post, thousands of people can be contacted and mobilized to respond in an emergency situation. Amber Alerts are passed on via Facebook, mobilization information for Search and Rescue groups are initiated via Twitter, and mass requests for resources can be answered with a click of a button.
During the Virginia Tech Shootings of 2007, Facebook groups were utilized to gather accurate information about the victims. Students joined groups like “I’m OK at VT” and allowed family members around the world to ease their fears. Posts in these groups identified victims through first- and second-hand accounts. While posting inaccurate information was a definite concern during the hours following the shootings, group members were adamant about posting correct information, and requested confirmation before adding names to the list. This was the first time that any social networking site has been used as an accurate medium for information immediately following a disaster.
We see Facebook used to spread information about Amber Alerts, and now, even some police stations are using it to track down criminals. This past week, the Fredericksburg Police Department, in Fredericksburg, VA used their Facebook page to post information about a subject and the posting led to the subject’s capture. On a similar note, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s Search and Rescue Coordinator uses his Facebook and Twitter pages to alert personnel of current searches. This is an extremely efficient way to alert many organization and personnel of a search. Recently, it also let area residents know of an ongoing search and they were prepared to offer assistance with resources like food and shelter for searchers.