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New Red Cross Study Finds Web Users Would Turn To Social Media In Emergencies & Expect 1st Responders To Be Listening: 74% Want Response Less Than An Hour After Their Tweet or Facebook Post

August 9th, 2010 · 9 Comments

A very interesting American Red Cross survey released this morning indicates that 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.

In fact, 74 percent of those polled expected help to come less than an hour after their tweet or Facebook post.

The Red Cross commissioned the survey in advance of its Emergency Social Data Summit set for Thursday, August 12, in Washington, D.C. The meeting, convened by the Red Cross, will bring together thought leaders and experts in the government, social media, emergency response and the non-profit sectors to discuss better ways to handle information that flows through the web during disasters.

According to the Red Cross press release:

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.

Web users also have clear expectations about how first responders should be answering their requests. The survey showed that 69 percent said that emergency responders should be monitoring social media sites in order to quickly send help—and nearly half believe a response agency is probably already responding to any urgent request they might see.

As the story I posted yesterday about the Boston subway flasher indicates, not all government agencies are yet monitoring social media.

The survey also found that among web users, social media sites are the fourth most popular source for emergency information, just behind television news, radio and online news sites. More web users say they get their emergency information from social media than from a NOAA weather radio, government website or emergency text message system.

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Tags: Public Opinion · Red Cross

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ron McCracken // Aug 9, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Obviously much more preparedness education is needed when so many expect a response within 1 hour. Little wonder so few have 3-day supplies of basics on hand.

  • 2 admin // Aug 9, 2010 at 7:35 pm


    I hadn’t thought about that angle, but I think it is an interesting point particularly considering all the effort preparedness officials have made about 72 hours of self sufficiency. Thanks for raising it.


  • 3 Roberto // Aug 9, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    How realistic is it to expect that if you can’t get through to 9-1-1 you’ll have an Internet connection, and that there will be people with so little to do at the other end of the line (presuming you can’t get through to 9-1-1 because there’s a disaster going on) they’re waiting to dispatch help to Facebook posters? Craziness. A ’survey’ aimed at getting the words “social media” into the headline and keywords.

  • 4 Roberto // Aug 9, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    John, I’d be more interested in the responder (e.g. NYPD, FDNY) perspective, i.e. do they think this is an advisable communications path? My guess is they would greatly prefer the channels that are designed for immediate response.

    Call 9-1-1 and they have a robust mechanism waiting to field your call and dispatch a response. The communication is two-way, so they can obtain the vital information they need in order to respond with maximum speed and appropriateness.

    How much useful information comes from a Facebook post or tweet saying: “Need hlp, crner Av. B &12th!” What do I send? Patrol car? Ambulance? Fire truck? SWAT?

  • 5 [Avian Flu Diary] Red Cross Emergency Social Data Summit | Influenza Virus Mashup // Aug 10, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    [...]   For some background on it, John Solomon wrote a terrific blog yesterday on it called (truncated) New Red Cross Study Finds Web Users Would Turn To Social Media In Emergencies. [...]

  • 6 Follow/Participate In Thursday’s American Red Cross “Emergency Crisis Data Summit” On Web // Aug 11, 2010 at 8:08 am

    [...] organizations and tech companies to discuss how best to harness the communications power of new media to prepare and respond to [...]

  • 7 [Avian Flu Diary] Reminder: Red Cross Online Summit Today | Influenza Virus Mashup // Aug 12, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    [...]   John Solomon wrote a terrific blog on some of the issues that will be addressed earlier this week called (truncated) New Red Cross Study Finds Web Users Would Turn To Social Media In Emergencies. [...]

  • 8 Guest Post: Of the IMS, emergency information and social media « In Case of Emergency // Aug 17, 2010 at 7:03 am

    [...] There have been a few blog posts and stories recently on the importance of social media in emergencies … such as this one: [...]

  • 9 Reader’s Recap « PRoactive thinking // Sep 5, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    [...] New Red Cross Study Finds Web Users Would Turn To Social Media In Emergencies & Expect 1st Responders To Be Listening: This post by crisis communications blogger John Solomon highlights the importance of government bodies being prepared through all channels, including social media in the case of an emergency. The survey by the Red Cross reveals that most web users go online during an emergency and that 74% of those users expect a response less than an hour after their Tweet or Facebook post: Proof that the government needs a new level of crisis management and emergency preparedness. [...]

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