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Aug 19, 2015 05:47 PM EDT

Social Media's Impact On Emergency Communications

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Twitter and Facebook are sometimes the only telecommunications medium that survives, and the first to recover as seen in disasters that struck the world in recent years, according to a recent review study.

"Communication is one of the fundamental tools of emergency management, and it becomes crucial when there are dozens of agencies and organizations responding to a disaster," researcher Tomer Simon of Ben-Gurion University said in a statement. "In the past six years, social media has been garnering an ever increasing role as a main communication channel in emergency situations."

Social media provides opportunities and possibilities to interact and engage with people during emergencies by disseminating relevant information and gathering posted information. Emergency managers who were formerly used to one-directional dissemination of information to the population are now exposed to vast amounts of information, originating from the public and typically before formal notifications.

The public was the first to use social media in innovative and new ways for various needs during emergencies. Many people use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to promote preparedness in routine and are able to leverage them during emergencies, and to respond and assist the afflicted population during emergencies.

The first indication of a number of emergencies throughout the world was published on Twitter, which enabled the publication of information to large crowds in real time. The world's first posts on two terrorist incidents in 2013 were published initially via Twitter: the Boston Marathon bombing and the Westgate mall terror attack in Nairobi, Kenya.

"Regardless of the type of emergency (a terror attack, hurricane or an earthquake), communication infrastructure may be overloaded and collapse as numerous people attempt to access information. In an emergency, the public is exposed to large quantities of information without being aware of its validity or risk of misinformation. However, users are typically quick to correct misrepresentation, thus making social media 'self-regulating,'" Simon said.

The findings are detailed in the International Journal of Information Management.

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