Embracing Social Media During Natural Disasters

Whether during the earthquake in Sendai, Japan, or the recent tornadoes in Joplin, Mo., victims of natural disasters are increasingly turning to social media to find or contact family. According to a recent www.miamiherald.com article by Marshall Criser, president of AT&T in Florida, social media tools have turned into a reliable medium before, during and after disasters. In fact, in a recent Sachs/Mason-Dixon poll, 72% of Americans belong to a social network like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, and 45% will rely on these platforms to communicate with friends and family during a natural disaster.

“As the role of social media during natural disasters increases, so, too, does the role of cell phone providers, and the industry is working year-round to ensure the availability of service when our customers need it the most,” Criser wrote in his Miami Herald article.

Because wireless services offer users a lifeline during times of disaster, the wireless phone industry continues to enhance their services, including data exchange that enables customers to send e-mails and text messages and to have instant access to social media platforms. And through “cells on wheels,” or COWs, cell providers increase a network’s capacity or replace downed towers following a disaster.

“This technology is being deployed by service providers in natural disasters across the country and it is helping to save lives,” according to Criser. “In Joplin, for example, our teams were ready with “pop-up” towers to ensure those affected had service to communicate with emergency responders and their loved ones. Working with AT&T’s network team, the company provided updates in real-time across our social media platforms and even received recognition for our responsiveness from a Joplin television station.”

While social media usage continues to gain acceptance during natural disasters, Criser said that one size won’t fit all, and emergency managers should still use a variety of strategies to reach all age groups.

For more information about how social networking sites and cell services help during times of disaster, visit: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/07/02/2295754/embracing-social-media-during.html