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Should We Be Using Social Media To Make Emergency 9-1-1 Calls, Especially During Major Disasters?
October 10, 2012
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There's no question social media is changing almost everything in our world, including how we might respond to disasters and emergencies.

The Canadian Red Cross recently brought in the Ipsos Reid polling firm to find out what people in this country think about using social media in emergencies.

About 64% of Canadians use social media.

According to the survey, about the same number - 63% - believe police officers, firefighters and paramedics should be ready to respond to a call that's made through social media (such as Facebook or Twitter).

One of third of the people surveyed said they believed help would arrive, if they posted a call through social media.

In emergencies, the Canadian Red Cross uses social networks to share important updates, provide information and respond to questions from affected communities.

But as far as responding to emergency calls for help, it encourages people to call 9-1-1 rather than using social media.

However, it says the survey will help officials better understand people's habits and expectations.

Here are some of the other key findings:

54% of those surveyed said they would use social media to let relatives and friends know they are safe in an emergency.

Nearly half (49%) said they would sign up for electronic alerts in the event of an official warning.

Television (39%) and radio (26%) are still the most preferred ways of receiving news about an emergency but 31% said they would turn to web sites, social media or cell phones.

66% of Canadians say they aren't really prepared for an emergency, mainly because they don't think a disaster will happen in their area or they haven't thought about it.

Here's an infographic from the Red Cross that illustrates the results.

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The Red Cross says it's important for every household across the country to prepare for disasters by having enough food, water and supplies to last for 72 hours.

You can see more of the survey results here.

Plus, you can get tips on how to prepare for a disaster at www.redcross.ca; you can join The Red Cross on Facebook or follow on Twitter.

You can also help out during emergencies by joining the Canadian Red Cross Social Team as a digital volunteer.

We found some other examples of social media being used during emergencies in the United States.

Mashable.com recently reported, both the Dallas Fort Worth Red Cross and Dallas Forth Worth International Airport used Twitter to warn people about tornadoes in the area.

One tweet went out said: If you are in south Dallas Co, SEEK SHELTER NOW! Confirmed Tornado on the ground! #txwx #dfwwx #fb

The U.S. National Hurricane Center isn't using social media full-on yet, but it is experimenting with it as you can see from its Facebook page.

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And overseas, Japan is considering allowing 9-1-1 calls to be placed through social media during natural disasters.

Of course, Japan has faced several disasters over the past year and a half - the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Trouble is, during large scale emergenices like that, phone lines and email services can get overwhelmed with so many people trying to get help or information.

As PCWorld.com points out, for many in Japan, social networks were the only way of getting immediate information. And it says in the days after the disasters, the use of social networks such as Twitter went up.

In fact, at a conference in late August, the head of Twitter in Japan gave examples of how to use Twitter during a disaster.

For instance, someone could add #survived to a tweet, to let family and friends know their okay.

That same week, the Tokyo Fire Department started its official Twitter account, @Tokyo_Fire_D.

Japan's government plans to hold another conference on all of this next month.

Related stories

NYPD Establishes Social Media Taskforce

Infographic: How Chinese Citizens Use Social Media

A Social Media Sobriety Test

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