About Me

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Facebook says I live in the Bay Area. Twitter boasts that I like puns and bad jokes (@The_PUNisher_SF), and then Reddit upvotes and says I LOVE puns and bad jokes. And this blog tells you about my experiences using social media sites and learning to fit them all together into my life.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Using Social Media in an Emergency

Photo from MSN
As we saw this week, social media can be a quick "call to action" in an emergency.  It can help gather quick information and provide a snapshot of the incident from several vantage points.  But conversely it can also lead to misinformation, false reporting, and harmful snap judgments.

When using social media during an emergency, here are some suggestions to consider:
  1. Share only information that is confirmed to be true.  Misinformation is a huge problem with the Internet, and catchy news stories can become sensationalized quickly.  Confirm stories with two sources before sharing, and only retweet posts from verified Twitter accounts (recognizable by the blue checkmark).

    After the Boston attacks, a fake Twitter account named @HopeForBoston started spreading this rumor that a young girl from Sandy Hook was killed in the explosion, and was retweeted 50,000 times before the account was suspended.  In another rumor, people thought celebrity Denise Richards was the mother of the 8-year-old boy who was killed (the mother is named Denise Richard).  People spreading rumors may be doing it to achieve quick fame and attention, and often can do a lot of harm.  These small bursts of information are known as micro-reporting, and are likely to continue as we get more intertwined with social media and technology.

  2. Aim to be respectful of the victims and their right to privacy. Follow the Golden Rule and remember that anything you post on a public account can be picked up by a news source and shared around the world.

  3. Never compromise your safety for the sake of micro-reporting.  As a spectator in any incident, you should be far enough away that you can hold up your thumb and block your view of the entire incident.

  4. Connect with loved ones via Facebook to keep phone lines open.  Phone lines can become overwhelmed quickly.  Every phone call you make might prevent an urgent 911 call from getting through, so seek alternatives when possible.  You can also change your outgoing voicemail to tell loved ones you’re okay.
  5. Share websites designed to help connect people in the tragedy.  Sites like Google Person Finder and the Red Cross' Safe and Well pop up in response to a disaster and are made to help people communicate with loved ones and make sure they're ok.

If you want to pass along these guidelines, here is a shareable image.

In response to last Monday's incident, there was a great quote written by @rolldiggity:

It is a great summation of Twitter's greatest strength and weakness. 

Also, in the wake of this week's incidents I want to share some tips and advice to help you and your family be prepared in an emergency situation.  I was lucky enough to take free emergency preparedness training in my community, and it offered a lot of useful information.  The training is a nationwide program called CERT/NERT, and is often free to anyone interested in becoming certified as an emergency responder.  Also feel free to check out my image gallery of things I learned from the NERT course in San Francisco.

Planning Ahead
In your home and car, always keep food and water supplies to last 72 hours for your family.  After natural disasters, utilities are often shut off and food options become limited.  Having 3 days worth of essentials can keep your family safe and together until help comes.  You also should have a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, a flashlight in close range to your bedroom, and a first aid kit.  Try to always keep half a tank of gas in your car along with cash, in case you need to get out of town fast.  Arrange a meeting point with your family in case you can't get in touch with each other.

The Red Cross website has a full list of essentials, as well as several phone apps to download for emergency preparedness (First Aid, Tornado/Hurricane/Earthquake/Wildfires, and Shelter Locations).

Always be aware of your surroundings, and report any suspicious activity or unattended bags to 911.

During an Emergency (sorry, these tips are mostly for earthquakes)
The most important thing during an emergency is to keep yourself safe and try to remain calm.  This depends on the incident, but if you're indoors, stay away from windows in case of shattering glass, and try and find a sturdy table or desk to hide under in case of falling debris.  If you're outdoors, stay away from overhead wires and transformers, and get close to building walls so you're not in the fall zone for shattering glass.  If possible, wait until the risk is minimized before moving.

After an Emergency
After an emergency it is very important to stay calm.  Check yourself and those around you for injuries, and then assess your household/building.  Locate and turn off any utilities if you're concerned about leaks or explosions (only do this if needed, because you won't be able to turn it back on afterward).

To help someone who's injured, clear any airway obstructions, minimize any bleeding, and calm them down if they're in shock.  If you're concerned they're losing too much blood, find their brachial (arm) or femoral (leg) arteries and apply pressure to reduce blood flow.  Try to elevate the injured part above the level of the heart.  This isn't going to save their life, but might buy them time until emergency personnel are able to see them.  You can also download the Red Cross phone app for step-by-step instructions.

In a crime scene, observe conditions around you and note anything worth reporting to the authorities. 

Remember not to use your phone unless it's an emergency.  As we saw this week, phone lines can become overwhelmed quickly and stop service for everyone.  Imagine that the phone call you're making is preventing a 911 call from getting through, and decide if it's really necessary in that moment.  It's a good idea to change your outgoing voicemail to say you're ok, and designate one out-of-town family member that you will contact to give updates.

Ways you can get involved

In Summary

Hopefully these tips will help you start your journey to education.  There are plenty of ways to learn more and get involved in your community.  A little education can go a long way in helping you deal with and respond to emergencies.

I hope this is the most helpful information you never have to use.




  1. Thanks for sharing!

  2. great info..helpful in emergency management..thanks for sharing it.

  3. In today’s digital world, we rely on social media but there are rumors as well. it is not that we should not trust it, it is just that having an additional basic knowledge will help in judging whether the information provided is precise and it should be applied in emergency situations or not? I recommend you for the basic first aid self- serving course, so that you may help yourself and others. I have done first aid basic course and I have learnt a lot, you may see the list of few things that I studied in just eight hours,
    Knowledge is never wasted, so in additional to social media, basic knowledge would be the best approach.

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