Digital conversations can be an effective tool in emergency situations.

Emergency management agencies are using social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to get information out during emergencies. So we think it’s important to follow what influential institutions are doing in this area. Last month, the United Nations office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs published a report about hashtag standardization, primarily discussing the social media platform, Twitter. It is important, first, to know that a hashtag must contain the pound sign (#) with some sort of phrase immediately following. The hashtag allows for digital conversations to be had on Twitter and can organize topic-related tweets. According to the document, “the public is using Twitter for real-time information exchange and for expressing emotional support during a variety of crises, such as wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, political protests, mass shootings, and communicable-disease tracking.” The important and most effective feature about Twitter is that it allows real-time information to be public within seconds. For emergency responders, tweets and other social media posts help responders organize more effectively and track where the most need is during and immediately following a crisis. One of the case studies from the report is Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines (2013). Within the first 48 hours after Super Typhoon Haiyan’s landfall, nearly 230,000 tweets were published internationally containing a situationally relevant hashtag. From those tweets, over 600 written messages and 180 images were identified containing actionable information for emergency response planning. These messages included evidence of affected areas, as well as logistics planning information such as road closures, downed power lines and shelter locations. Digital humanitarians from the Standby Volunteer Taskforce triangulated and published this information to live crisis maps to assist aid workers in-country, sometimes even before the responders reached the Philippines. The effectiveness and importance of using Twitter has become widespread around the world. It has become essential for getting reliable and up-to-the-minute information out to the public. That’s why Hyper-Reach includes a fully-integrated Twitter and Facebook component in its emergency messaging application and continues to explore how else to help responders get information out to the public using social media.

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