Yesterday, the American Red Cross and Dell unveiled the Digital Operations Center, utilizing social media trends to disperse validated information during a crisis and to accurately target areas that need help.
Sounds great, but what does that mean for us? As a frequent visitor to social media forums, such as Facebook, Twitter & Tumblr, I wasn’t sure how this would serve me. I’m certain I could find vital information on my own when there’s a crisis at hand. But there is a bigger picture!
In my junior year of college, I lived in a five-bedroom house with my close friends. As fun as it was, it could be chaotic at times. Different utilities were in different names; our landlord would communicate with us by calling only one of us at random; and notes to remind fellow housemates to do their assigned chores that week went unnoticed and were tossed in a shuffle of bills, flyers and take-out menus.
Then, upon returning from winter break and our respective homes, someone took a trip to the dollar store. They bought a magnetic notepad to post messages from the landlord on the refrigerator, bright magnets designated for each utility bill, and a tray for each person’s letters and personal messages. The house was more organized and streamlined, and we could easily identify problems if and when they arose.
With the new Digital Operations Center, the public can work together with the Red Cross using social media forums to give in-the-field observations and to get answers to their questions, not to mention emotional support. Its function is a lot like the message system my roommates and I set up – we all knew our weekly chores and that we’d have to broadcast any news from our landlord, but the messages were clearer and more direct when they were sorted and organized for us.
The Digital Operations Center will collect all those little status updates and tweets about an emergency or disaster, and use them to anticipate the needs of affected areas. For example, someone may post about a hurricane they drove through on their way home. The American Red Cross can respond with safety tips, list available shelters, and repost about the hurricane to inform neighboring communities.
In addition, the Digital Operations Center can track trends in social media. They’ll be able to tell if an area is without electricity, or that another area is without water. That way, the Red Cross can avoid discrepancies and accurately assist those in need of water rather than shelter, or in need of blood donations rather than electricity. People on Facebook and Twitter can turn to this official source for updates, rather than relying on all the different information posted by their friends.
Just about everyone is using social media these days, and now the Red Cross can actively listen for distress. The center is going to be powered by a new digital volunteer program, where volunteers around the country can respond to questions from the public and provide both critical information and reassurance.