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Using social media to manage a disaster.

Proactive organizations look to their EAPs for disaster planning. Once a disaster has occurred, EA professionals are called upon to deliver a range of critical incident management services.

Consider these types of disasters:

* Natural--floods, earthquakes, and snowstorms;

* Man-made--oil spills, employee kills a supervisor in the workplace; and

* Health-related--terminal/ chronic illness, death, and pandemics.

Should EAPs use social media to manage a disaster? Does it work? How would you use it?

A 2010 major Red Cross study, "Social Media in Disasters and Emergencies", assessed the role and importance of social media in disasters. It asked, "What is the general level of use of social media in the community?" The study revealed:

* Nearly 3 in 4 individuals participate in at least one online community or social network.

* The majority (82%) participates in social media at least once a week.

Those surveyed had strong expectations about the role of social media in the event of a disaster or emergency:

* About half would sign up for emails, text alerts, etc. to receive information.

* Roughly half would mention emergencies on their social media channels.

* Facebook was the most commonly used channel.

* Nearly half would use social media to let loved ones know they are safe.

* More than two-thirds agreed that responders should monitor and respond to postings on their websites.

* Younger people were more likely to request help through social media or text messaging.

What do these results mean for EAPs?

* You need to proactively plan your use of social media during a potential crisis.

* You need to establish policies and best practices for your use of social media.

* If you don't--others will do it for you--and you will have lost control of the message.

* The younger your employee population--the more important this type of planning becomes.

EA professionals need to be aware that, as time passes, and as clients become more sophisticated, so does their creativity with new media. Following the devastating tornadoes that ravaged the South this past April, I discovered a wonderful example of what I'm talking about in The New York Times. Patty Bullion, 37, of Lester, Ala., created a Facebook page titled "Pictures and Documents found after the April 27, 2011 Tornadoes". She asked friends to post a link to her page on their own pages. People were invited to post photos of any items they found along with their e-mail address so that storm survivors could claim them.

The first of the images that Ms. Bullion posted were identified and claimed a few hours later. They were from Hackleburg, Ala., a town almost 100 miles away. Perhaps most poignantly: "The tornado that killed Emily Washburn's grandfather this week also destroyed his Mississippi home, leaving his family with nothing to remember him by--until a picture of him holding the dog he loved surfaced on Facebook, posted by a woman who found it in her office parking lot, 175 miles away in Tennessee."

Like hundreds of others finding keepsakes that fell from the sky ... the woman included her e-mail address, and Ms. Washburn responded immediately: "That man is my granddaddy. It would mean a lot to me to have that picture." The site reunited dozens with their prized--and in some cases, only --possessions.

An added bonus is the page turned into an unexpected source of support. "Along with the photographs of found items are the comments of well-wishers and homespun detectives speculating as to the identities of their owners. For those spared by the storms that killed hundreds in the South, the page is a bridge to its victims, a way to offer solace and to share in their suffering." One person posted: "Is there anything that I can do for your family or your community?"

Within 48 hours, more than 52,000 people had clicked the "like" button on the page, and more than 600 pictures had been posted. Such is the power of Facebook.

I believe that when it comes to social media, it is important for EAPs to take the lead rather than following our clients. What tools might you use to accomplish this?

* Probably nothing is faster than using an existing Twitter account. Another option is for the EAP or the organization to create an account that remains dormant except in the event of an emergency.

* Post information on the wall of your Facebook--if you have one.

* Post information on your website (this can be very slow).

* For a more ongoing response, consider creating a dedicated blog to provide information, tips, etc.

* Remember the Boy Scout motto: "Be Prepared." The time to figure out how you would use social media in an emergency is NOW--before a critical incident occurs.

References Documents/pdf/other/SocialMediaSlideDeck.pdf

"Memories Lost to a Whirlwind Alight on Facebook to Be Claimed" Amy Harmon. The New York Times. April 29, 2011.

Marina London is' Manager of web services for EAPA and author of iWebU, (, a weekly blog about the Internet and social media for mental health and EA professionals who are challenged by new communications technologies. She previously served as an executive for several national EAP and managed mental health care firms. She can be reached at

By Marina London, LCSW, CEAP
COPYRIGHT 2011 Employee Assistance Professionals
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:tech trends
Author:London, Marina
Publication:The Journal of Employee Assistance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2011
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