Over the weekend there was a really great dialogue that came up during the weekly Health Care Social Media chat session. The second topic during the discussion was “What are emergency best practices for social media?” This question raised a variety of responses, but opened up a very insightful discussion about using social media in emergency situations.
My initial reaction after reading the topic was “the last thing emergency responders should think about is social media”, but as responses and opinions came pouring through my Twitter stream, that knee jerk reaction began to take a different form. I began to think about what social media was at its core. Social media is a way for individuals to communicate and interact with other people, other organizations, and other communities. If social media is to be used for communication purposes, how can social media be used in an emergency room setting? How can it be used during a natural disaster? What about at an accident scene? How can care be delivered via social media?
During the health care social media chat a link was provided to a video of FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate discussing social media’s role in natural disaster response. Fugate stated that “social media allows for two way communication between people before, during, and after disasters.” This statement put things in a different focus for me. The idea of social media providing responders with details about what they are up against was not what my initial thought of how social media would be used, but it makes brilliant sense. Using the 2011 Joplin, MO tornado as an example, Fugate made the point that when the tornado initially touched down FEMA had received no requests from the state for federal assistance. Yet, FEMA was able to make preparations based on social media interactions that contained pictures, video, and other media.
If social media is to be used in emergency situations, the delivery of facts is something that needs to be examined. Making sure that your facts are from a creditable source will insure that the correct information is being circulated. If information is coming out that is nonfactual, it’s imperative for the incorrect information to be corrected. Sifting through and correcting the noise that is bound to be created through social media is a major task, so who’s shoulders should it fall on? Suggestions from the health care social media chat included creating a promoted tweet or a stickied Facebook post from emergency agencies, or having a designated hashtag for the emergency. Both of these were great suggestions! Establishing a hashtag would allow tweets or posts to be directed to a central organization or call center and properly distributed. Having a designated hashtag also allows for the public to follow it and contribute to the response.
What about using social media in an emergency room setting? This question came up during the health care social media chat, and had wonderful examples and suggestions. Similar to the responses on social media being used during natural disasters, in an emergency room, physicians can quickly gather information about a patient prior to being in the actual room. Although a tweet won’t stop the bleeding, it can provide factual information.
As long as social media is being used properly, it can and should be used in emergency situations. Whether it is out in the field during response or in an emergency room, if the information is from a factual source, it can be a properly integrated form of communication. Have you been in an emergency situation and used social media? How did it play out for you? Was it successful? Leave a comment below, send us a message on Twitter @MDWebPro, let us know on Facebook, or on Google +. We’d love to hear from you.