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Red Cross Survey: Mixed Opinions on Value of Social Media During Disasters

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In anticipation of an Emergency Social Data Summit later this week in Washington, D.C., the Red Cross has released the findings of a survey (PDF link) it conducted on social networking use during a disaster. From the 1,058 self-selected respondents, some interesting figures emerged. Try to follow along as we plow through the data.

Of the respondents, 72-percent use social media sites of some kind or another (about 762 people). Eighteen-percent of those people have posted eyewitness information about an emergency or "a newsworthy event" on a social media site (about 137 people); and 75-percent of those people used Facebook to do so (about 103). But only 21-percent of that last group used Twitter to post information about an emergency/event (about 29 people). Interesting! So only about 2.7-percent of the respondents have used Twitter to post information about a disaster or -- let us emphasize the survey's wording -- "a newsworthy event," while 9.7-percent have used Facebook.

Survey subjects were also asked, "If you posted a request for help to a social media website, how long do you think it should reasonably take for help to arrive?" Seventy-four-percent of all respondents said they would expect help to arrive within an hour.

That doesn't jibe with the 69-percent of respondents who think that emergency response agencies should monitor their own social media accounts and websites for emergency calls, or the 59-percent of respondents who would call the agency on the phone to make sure it had seen the request. Meanwhile, 44-percent said that they doubt the agency would even see a call for help posted to one of its sites.

So what does this mean? It's early, and we're only on our first cup of coffee, but it seems like the small sampling of Americans surveyed by the Red Cross have little experience posting information about disasters or newsworthy events. Still, the majority feels that, just in case a disaster does occur, emergency agencies should be monitoring social networking sites -- both their own and yours. Still, nearly half doesn't think that agencies would even see a post about an imminent disaster, or have the staff to do so. So, even though most of the respondents haven't ever used social networking sites to post information about emergencies (but claim that, in the event of a disaster, they would), they think that the Red Cross, FEMA, et al. should simply know when something is going on.

The Red Cross has focused on only one aspect of the survey's findings, claiming on its site, "Web Users Increasingly Rely on Social Media to Seek Help in a Disaster" -- which seems kind of disingenuous, no? After all, the vast majority of its respondents have never used social networking to post information about an emergency, and nearly half don't think the agencies would even see cries for help posted to their own sites. While we've seen social networking's power in disseminating news and emergency calls in a disaster (e.g., Haiti, the Chilean earthquake), the American respondents don't seem to have much faith in their emergency response agencies. Katrina, anyone? [From: The Red Cross, via: ReadWriteWeb]

Tags: disaster, emergency, facebook, fema, RedCross, SocialNetworking, survey, top, twitter