May 30 2013
How Social Media Has Forever Altered Natural Disaster Response
Tragedy has a way of bringing people together; and amongst the chaos it’s the inspiring stories of courage, hope and faith which motivate us to pick up the pieces. The mainstream use of social media has permanently altered the way we share our daily lives and it’s also forever altered the way we respond to situations, particularly tragic events. Across the country we now have an unprecedented opportunity to instantly help victims of a tragedy by texting to donate instantly from our cell phones, and social networks have proven invaluable in locating missing friends and family when phone lines are congested. In the aftermath of the Moore, Oklahoma tornado it’s inspiring to see how people are using social media to rebuild and foster hope.
Here are seven inspiring social media applications from Oklahoma:
1. Contact Emergency Responders: With phone lines often congested after a natural disaster, 1 in 5 survivors have reported contacting emergency responders via social media, websites or email and 44% ask their friends online to contact responders on their behalf according to Mashable’s infographic, Social Media the New Face of Disaster Response. In my opinion this presents a huge opportunity and need for emergency responders to be trained and accesible via social media.
2. Locate Loved Ones: Social media has become a valuable way to reunite loved ones. In fact, according to Mashable, an employee of a hospital in Joplin used Facebook to successfully locate 1,100 missing hospital workers. The Red Cross also has a place on their website called the Safe and Well listings where people can report themselves safe or search the database in hopes of finding a missing loved one. After the Oklahoma tornado the social site Reddit started several threads under the subreddit /r/Oklahoma that were moved up to help make pictures of missing people move to the top. If the Red Cross were my client I would being working on a strategy to make the Safe and Well listings the mainstream go to database to help limit confusion for those searching for a loved one.
3. Instant Communication: With social media networks like Twitter, we can instantly follow the conversation using hashtags such as #Oklahoma, #OKstrong and #HealOK. This not only helps involve people around the world in the relief efforts, it also serves as a great way for victims to reach out to loved ones and find resources such as shelters.
4. Lost and Found: With approximately 2,400 homes damaged and some completely destroyed according to CNN, the tornado shattered and scattered the valuable belongings of upwards of 10,000 people. In the midst of the devastation, people began picking up the pieces finding family photos and mementos among the debris. Facebook pages such as Moore Oklahoma Lost and Found and groups like Oklahoma Tornado Photo Recovery, began popping up to help reunite victims with items they thought they’d never see again. Beyond personal belongings, many people were also separated from man’s best friends, their dog. After overwhelming demand on Facebook and confusion due to multiple Facebook pages, volunteers and organizations joined together to quickly create the OKC Metro Area Lost & Found Pets website. The website acts as a “virtual” bulletin board to help people find and reunite others with their pets. If this isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.
5. Mobilize Help - The need to help each other after a tragedy is basic human nature. By using social media many organizations are able to tap into this human need and mobilize potential volunteers. Non-profit organizations such as Operation BBQ Relief, founded after the 2011 tornado in Joplin, helps feed victims and emergency personnel after a disaster. Relying solely on volunteers, Operation BBQ Relief is using social media to mobilize those looking to volunteer while also telling their story through images and video.
6. Fundraising: Social media and mobile phones have streamlined the fundraising process. Now many non-profits have a text to donate feature, such as mGive, which makes donating to a cause as easy as sending a text message. Anyone with a mobile phone can instantly support those affected
by the Oklahoma tornadoes by donating to causes such as the OK Food Bank by texting FOOD to 32333 to give $10 to help with relief efforts or by texting REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to the American Red Cross.
Social media not only makes promoting this type of giving immediate, but with the right ingredients it can also spread fundraising efforts like wildfire. Take Hello Apparel for instance, the clothing company designed a $15 tank-top to benefit Oklahoma relief and promised to send all proceeds to the Oklahoma Red Cross. Within 24 hours the company sold out of the shirts and raised $90,000. Hello Apparel posted Instagram Instagram Photos about the effort resulting in over 6,000 responses. The speed in which we’re all able to respond and help others across the country, and even the world, in times of tragedy was unfathomable only a few years ago.
7. Find Resources: After a tragedy it can be difficult to know where to go and who to turn to. There are many people in need of assitance and many organizations willing to offer a helping hand. I can only imagine the confusion I would feel wondering where I should go to eat and sleep. Crowdsourcing tools such as Google Docs enable people to work together to share tips and resources like the Google Doc, Resource Directory for Oklahoma Tornadoes. For those worried about loved ones, Google’s online Oklahoma crisis map helped detail the area hit and the Red Cross also has a free mobile app to help victims find an open shelter.
From raising money, to locating loved ones and precious family mementos, social media is becoming one of the most efficient and valuable outlets for disaster response and I think we’ve only scraped the surface of it’s potential. What other inspiring ways have you seen social media being used during a tragedy? How else do you think we could use it to help during and after a natural disaster?
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