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Red Cross: We want to hear your tweets for help

By Susan Kinzie

After the earthquake in Haiti, the American Red Cross began receiving tweets from people trapped under collapsed buildings. With much of the country lacking cellphone service, people sought help however they could.

But the Red Cross, like many other disaster-relief organizations and emergency responders, didn't have a good way to handle those pleas. Relief workers went through messages manually, contacting search-and-rescue teams, trying to pinpoint locations. It was the first big sign that humanitarian response was being changed dramatically by new technology.

But if someone screams for help on Facebook or Twitter, will anyone hear?

In an online survey of 1,058 people released this week, the Red Cross found that people are increasingly using social media in emergencies, and agencies such as police and fire departments are using it to issue warnings. But most are not ready to respond to electronic distress calls. Ninety percent of first-responders said they don't have the staffing to monitor incoming messages and respond rapidly.

On Thursday, the Red Cross will lead a discussion at its headquarters in downtown Washington with emergency-response leaders, technology experts and at least one social media swami to try to sort through the challenges of coordinating response to floods of real-time information. "We'll have 100 people live-blogging in the [Hall of Service], in the same place where people were rolling bandages during the first world war," said Gail McGovern, president and chief executive of the Red Cross.

For full story read here.

By Susan Kinzie  |  August 12, 2010; 10:11 AM ET
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