One of the great benefits of modern communications technology is the ability to transmit life-saving information rapidly to large numbers of people during an emergency situation.
September is National Preparedness Month in the United States and Ready.gov encourages all of us to review our emergency preparations this month. Those of us on the east coast of the United States are getting a real life reminder in the form of Hurricane Earl, which fortunately has changed course and is not predicted to cause significant damage.
As you review your emergency preparations this month, don’t forget to update your emergency communications! While most people primarily rely on local or national news for emergency alerts, social networking is a new and growing tool in emergency management and there is plenty of current, local information available if you just know where to look. In just a few minutes or less, you can connect to receive valuable information that just might save your life!
1. National Emergency Information
FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has a Twitter feed with information on major national emergencies. Hurricane Earl is the primary topic of late. FEMA’s Twitter feed is followed by 17, 356 people and agencies. FEMA also has a Facebook page with 16,303 fans. If you don’t participate in social networking, you can also sign up to receive email alerts from FEMA at this link.
2. Local Emergency Information
Since FEMA covers a huge territory and can’t possibly stay on top of every local emergency, it is good idea to stay in touch with your local emergency management department as well. Ready.gov provides this indexed map where you can click on your state and find your local emergency contacts. Nearly all of these agencies have Twitter or Facebook pages to share information. Some also offer email or cell phone text alerts.
In Virginia, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management has a Twitter feed and Facebook page as well as e-mail alerts. For those in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, CapitAlert is a service for traffic, weather, terrorism and other alerts through the coordinated efforts of the governments of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
3. Really Local Information
Some of the best communications networks to have in your emergency planning are the immediate neighbors on your street. Setting up a neighborhood directory, Facebook page or Twitter account is a great way to enable neighbors to help each other. You never know when you might be stranded and need the help of those closest to you. Our neighborhood learned this lesson during last year’s severe snowstorms.
Has anyone been saved by social networking alerts though? Actually, yes! While the numbers aren’t large, there are many incredible stories of people being saved by technology.
- A man stranded on frozen ice in the North Sea in the dark, began shooting his camera flash. A woman watching a live webcam feed of the sunset over the sea on her computer via saw the flashes and alerted authorities who rescued the man. (The Globe and Mail, February 4, 2010.)
- Wismond Jean-Pierre was safely pulled from the rubble of the Haiti earthquake when his brother alerted a journalist who Tweeted for help from international rescue teams, who had just left the area thinking there were no survivors remaining. (The Sun, January 5, 2010)
- Actresses Demi Moore and Nia Vardalos alerted authorities when a teen Tweeted that he planned to commit suicide. Interventions were made and the teen is apparently now alive and well. (Digital Journal, March 23, 2010)
- An American teen saved the life of a British teen who posted a suicidal message on Facebook. The American teen alerted her parents who then alerted local authorities eventually reaching British authorities across the Atlantic just in time to save the boy from a drug overdose. The boy’s parents parents were at home but completely unaware of the international situation unfolding upstairs. (Telegraph.co.uk, November 2, 2009)
Emergency preparedness is one of the feel-good benefits of our increasing interconnection through social networking. You never know when you could be the “friend” or “follower” that makes the difference.
What resources do you rely on for emergency information? Have a social networking rescue story to tell? Please share in the comments.
To my U.S. readers, have a wonderful Labor Day weekend!