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How social media can help during a natural disaster

In April 2012, Mashable reported 66% of Americans are connected to at least one form of social media. Everything from emergency relief departments, such as the Red Cross and FEMA, to police agencies and news outlets are using social media to reach as many people as possible.

Not everyone will agree social media is a great tool and a growing necessity. They may reason that social media has disconnected us from in-person communication. But, if you ask a survivor of a disaster (natural or otherwise), they most likely will disagree.

When Hurricane Andrew hit southeastern Florida 20 years ago, no one knew what the Category 5 storm was capable of doing. Some of the hardest hit areas were without electricity for over a month. In the critical hours that passed after the storm, friends and family members couldn’t reach one another. Even people with phone access had a hard time getting through to others because of how many calls were being attempted at the same time.
If social media was available 20 years ago, things may have been drastically different.

Facebook Is #1 in Japan

Bloomberg Businessweek interviewed LinkedIn’s Asia-Pacific managing director, Arvind Rajan, about the rise of Facebook in Japan. The country’s original social media and gaming platforms discouraged the use of real names and sharing personal information, unlike U.S. services. Bloomberg explained that this was the main reason Facebook was not embraced upon its arrival in 2008.

Now it’s #1. Why?

Rajan reasoned that the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan left family members to locate one another through Facebook. This was huge. It opened the hearts and minds of many toward Facebook.

Social Media Becomes Necessity in Times of Disaster

Over the past several years social media has become the first place people turn to get information before and after a major event happens. Here are a few prime examples of how it’s become beneficial in times of need.

  • Joplin, Mo., tornado survivors were reunited with their possessions thanks to posts made on Facebook.
  • During the Japanese disasters, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo encouraged U.S. citizens “to continue your efforts to be in contact with your loved one(s) using SMS texting and other social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, etc.) that your loved one(s) may use.”
  • After disasters, the Red Cross creates boards and Google creates Person Finder sites for use as virtual check-in systems.
  • NOAA’s National Hurricane Center now has its own Facebook and Twitter accounts to help people keep up with storm preparation and information.

Social media isn’t just being used to help locate people or items. It’s also being used to help rapidly raise funds for areas of devastation, too.

In 2010, Haiti was rocked by a massive earthquake and the Red Cross initiated a Twitter campaign to start raising funds. The tweets informed users to text “Haiti” to “90999,” and $10 was charged to their cellphone service bill. The Pew Research Center reported the Red Cross raised $8 million in just two days.

Social media has evolved far past being just a place to share kitten photos. It can help save lives.

This guest post was provided by Erin Palmer. Erin writes about public health degree programs and allied health careers for US News University Directory. For more information please visit

Get in touch with Erin on Twitter: @Erin_E_Palmer

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