Stay­ing con­nected

So­cial me­dia put to work when dis­as­ter strikes

Modern Healthcare - - Special Report -

Amer­ica’s abil­ity to in­ter­act on­line and use mo­bile tech­nol­ogy have changed sig­nif­i­cantly since Sept. 11, with the use of so­cial me­dia such as Face­book and Twit­ter play­ing a greater role in dis­as­ter re­sponse and pre­pared­ness.

Hos­pi­tals and pub­lic health or­ga­ni­za­tions are in­creas­ingly us­ing so­cial me­dia to get the word out dur­ing a cri­sis and are find­ing at times that tools such as text mes­sag­ing, Face­book and Twit­ter may be their only options.

Dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Irene last month, 135-bed Carteret Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, More­head City, N.C., was able to post reg­u­larly to its Face­book page and Twit­ter feeds de­spite at times not hav­ing reg­u­lar power or reg­u­lar tele­phone ac­cess.

“All I can say is smart­phones are a won­der­ful thing,” says Michelle Lee, who as mar­ket­ing and pub­lic re­la­tions di­rec­tor was re­spon­si­ble for the up­dates. Lee says she was not on the hos­pi­tal premises but was in di­rect con­tact with Carteret’s storm com­mand cen­ter us­ing the hos­pi­tal’s e-mail and her smart­phone as the hos­pi­tal ran on gen­er­a­tor-pro­duced power. (She says the hos­pi­tal’s dis­as­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tions were op­er­a­ble even though its main phone sys­tem was not.)

Carteret ex­ec­u­tives stud­ied the mar­ket in May and found that Face­book was used more of­ten than Twit­ter in the com­mu­nity but both tools were used for mes­sag­ing dur­ing the storm.

“We saw this as a new means of com­mu­ni­cat­ing when the other ways aren’t work­ing,” she says.

On a much broader scale, the Amer­i­can Red Cross has ramped up its use of Face­book and Twit­ter dur­ing calami­ties such as Hur­ri­cane Irene, and is in­creas­ingly us­ing Twit­ter chat­ter in its dis­as­ter-man­age­ment as­sess­ments, says Wendy Har­man, di­rec­tor of so­cial strat­egy for the Amer­i­can Red Cross in Wash­ing­ton.

The Red Cross had at least one vol­un­teer work­ing on mon­i­tor­ing mes­sages and pub­lish­ing on so­cial me­dia be­gin­ning two days be­fore the storm made land­fall Aug. 27 in North Carolina and re­lied on storm­re­lated Twit­ter post­ings for its anal­y­sis of the ef­fects of the storm, Har­man says

“That sit­u­a­tional aware­ness is be­com­ing more important to us,” Har­man says.

And that’s a trend Amer­i­cans are happy to see, ac­cord­ing to re­cent sur­veys. Two sur­veys to­gether found that 80% of the gen­eral pub­lic and 69% of the on­line pop­u­la­tion “be­lieve that na­tional emer­gency re­sponse or­ga­ni­za­tions should reg­u­larly mon­i­tor so­cial me­dia sites in or­der to re­spond promptly,” ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease from the Red Cross.

The re­sults also showed rel­a­tively high use of so­cial me­dia, text mes­sag­ing and on­line news sources by the pub­lic dur­ing times of dis­as­ter. The sur­veys in­di­cate that 24% of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion and 31% of the on­line pop­u­la­tion would use so­cial me­dia to tell family and friends they are safe.

—Paul Barr

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