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Can Social Media Become The New 911 Emergency Service?

Canadian certainly love their social media sites, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, we share photos, videos, chat with friends and family.  However, could social media be used in an emergency, similar to how picking up the phone and dialing 911?  According to new data collected by Ipsos on behalf of the Canadian Red Cross, the majority of Canadians are using social media regularly and expect emergency responders to also be using popular social networking tools.

The survey, Social Media in Emergencies, is the first of its kind in Canada to look at habits and trends around the use of social media in disasters. Key findings include:

  • 64 per cent of Canadians use social media sites, 62 per cent of whom participate nearly every day
  • 63 per cent think disaster and emergency response agencies, including fire and police, should be prepared to respond to calls for help that are posted on social media networks
  • About one third of respondents (35 per cent) think emergency services would respond to a request for help posted on social media, 74 per cent of whom believe help would arrive within one hour
  • 54 per cent of Canadians say they would use social media to let loved ones know they are safe in an emergency
  • Although television (39 per cent) and radio (26 per cent) are the preferred ways of receiving news about an emergency, one third (31 per cent) of Canadians say they would prefer various electronic methods, such as web sites, social media or cell phones
  • While the majority of Canadians say they have personally experienced disasters, 66 per cent have not taken steps to prepare themselves for an emergency
  • The main reasons cited for not taking steps to prepare include: perception that a disaster is unlikely to occur in their area (27 per cent); never thought about it (21 per cent); and no time/never got around to it (12 per cent)

“Information is key to keeping people safe in an emergency,” says Conrad Sauvé, Secretary General of the Canadian Red Cross. “With the majority of Canadians already engaged on social networking sites, these platforms can be used to get more information on local emergencies and inform people how they can give or receive help.”

The Canadian Red Cross does use social networks for emergencies to share important updates, provide preparedness information and respond to questions from affected communities.