How Social Media (and local news) got disaster victims the help they needed

A disaster and media response coordinated 140 characters at a time.

Most people would agree social media has great value during large scale disasters. I can tell you first hand about the countless times I used social media to spread the word about thunderstorms, tornadoes, blizzards and fires to thousands and thousands of people at once.

But few can see the value in social media for the smaller scale disasters, like a single home fire or when a car crashes into a house. You may be thinking  “Car into House, that’s random.” Maybe so, but that’s exactly what happened last night and what I want to use to demonstrate the important role  social media can play even during a small disaster.

Yesterday afternoon I saw a tweet from Fox 29 reporter Chris O’Connell that he was working on a story for the 6pm news about a family forced from their home after a car smashed into their house. I emailed Chris with information on how the family could get help from the Red Cross. I didn’t get a response right away. Since I wanted to make sure the family got help as soon as possible and seeing the possibility the Red Cross would get positive news coverage (I am the Communications Director after all), I got impatient. So I replied to one of his tweets saying the Red Cross could help.

Here is the initial tweet exchange between Fox 29’s Chris O’Connell and myself

I got a tweet back a little while later from Chris saying the family was calling for help now. Our emergency response center (We call it the Bridge) dispatched a team immediately and help was soon on the way. That was a very gratifying tweet to read. It may be a small thing to just about everyone else, but a big deal to me.

The family was very upset. Their reaction was typical of what our volunteers see everyday after a fire or other disaster. It’s very traumatic to lose your home and the uncertainty that comes with it. And even though the Red Cross couldn’t fix everything, it could provide some comfort, some hope, in what can seem like a hopeless situation.

I’ve included below an edited version of how Chris O’Connell’s 6pm and 10pm stories turned out and the prominent mention the Red Cross got in them. But the most gratifying part was not the publicity we got, but rather, the knowledge that the family last night and for many nights to come would be staying at our one of a kind Red Cross House – Center for Disaster Recovery with a roof over their heads, clothes on their back, and food in their stomach — soon to be on the path back to independent living, thanks to the Red Cross.


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