Using Social Media in Emergency Management

Social media in emergency management

In the early hours of June 12, 2016 the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history occurred at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Fear and confusion were rampant for the victims, their families, the local community and the nation. People needed to know what was happening and more importantly, if their loved ones were safe.

With so many club-goers in the bar that night, it would have been impossible for emergency responders to field the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of calls made to them while also dealing with the immediate crisis. Social media worked as a disaster response tool; many families were quickly given piece of mind that their loved ones were safe. This is not a new phenomenon; even in 2010, 76% of Americans used social media to let their families know they’re okay during disasters such as the Haiti earthquake.


A key benefit of social media during the Pulse crisis was the first official use of Facebook’s Safety Check in the U.S. The logic of this tool is simple: when Facebook detects you are located near a crisis, an “Are You Safe?” request is sent to you. By clicking, “I’m safe”, you can alert your friends and anyone who sees your profile that you are not in danger.

Other elements of Facebook were used as well, such as direct messaging or posting on timelines. These allowed people to declare their safety and let concerned friends and family know, too. During the Boston Marathon bombings, one quarter of Americans used social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to stay informed.

Another benefit of social media in emergency management is the use of geotagging. During Hurricane Sandy, those in peril geotagged their location. This allowed disaster response teams to focus their efforts on areas most in need while keeping tabs on all the affected regions.

Sara Roen Brady, President of Sara Brady Public Relations, Inc., a national firm specializing in crisis and reputation management based in Winter Park, FL offers her insight: “Social media allows for the immediate distribution of critical information that notifies the public, as well as, news media in real time about the status of a crisis.” 59% of journalists are on Twitter, which means that credible information is disseminated as it happens, whether through a news account, or through a certified personal account. According to Brady, “Regular and consistent communications via social media contribute toward minimizing stress, frustration and anger for everyone.” Followers of these accounts can stay current on information as they travel, instead of relying on a computer or television. This allows greater flexibility in terms of news availability and audience range.

During the Pulse crisis, Twitter played an important part, as well. But, unlike Facebook, the primary function of Twitter was a news source rather than a point of contact. The hashtags #OrlandoStrong, #PrayforOrlando and #OrlandoUnited circulated heavily on Twitter. These hashtags were used to inform people about updates, benefits and fundraisers for the disaster, as well as declare solidarity with the victims. This also occurred during Hurricane Sandy when Twitter users sent more than 20 million storm-related Twitter posts.

Social Media in Business

The uses of social media in emergency management are helpful to individual people, but businesses can take part, too. Whether it’s providing relevant information, showing support, or acting as a point of contact, businesses can engage in social media for emergency management. 

When a crisis occurs, your business can utilize a prebuilt large audience, gained through social media, to become a valuable asset to the community. You can create infographics containing resources for people to help or get help during the crisis. Your social media accounts can retweet, share or link to news so that your followers stay knowledgeable. However, taking part involves precautions necessary to keep your public relations image untarnished.

Timing is critical when using social media as an emergency management tool. Make sure that the news you’re sharing is relevant and still in effect or risk confusing your audience. In the same vein, be sure that the news you are spreading is accurate; “Retweeting, rather than speculating on your own via Twitter, can be helpful. Silence is always the safest option. If you aren’t sure what to say, say nothing,” explains Brady.

If your business wants to be a resource center, have one designated page with information and use your social media accounts to drive traffic to that central source. This cuts down on clutter, streamlines the process and eliminates confusion for your audience. When responding to an emergency, there is a fine line between appearing empathetic and appearing to take advantage of the publicity. According to Brady, “The reality is there will always be someone who will question the integrity of social media use during an emergency, but if done with integrity that won’t matter. In any case, an avoidance of humor is always the safest route.”

Using social media in emergency management can be a beneficial tool for people and businesses, alike. However, all social media must be handled with care because although factual news can spread quickly to virtually anywhere and anyone, inaccurate information can spread at the same rate and to the same audience.

Make sure your social media public relations is ready for anything. Appleton Creative is an award-winning, full-service public relations agency located in Orlando, Florida. Appleton works with local, national and international clients to engage, inform and persuade target audiences of all types and sizes. Through strategic planning, media advisories, press releases, events and reputation management. Appleton can publicize and manage your company’s products, events and achievements. Your PR goals are worth a conversation: contact us at 407-246-0092 or

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