No doubt Haiti will be studied for years for all aspects of emergency response, including public information. There are so many ways that the country was ill-prepared for this disaster. And one of them was public communication. There already have been a number of stories how social media has stood in the gap for those able to use it, but this story from a Coast Guard public affairs officer about social media saving lives is very interesting.
I commented on this on emergencymgmt.com earlier today because this issue is of strong interest not just to us in crisis communication, but anyone in response agencies including fire, police, emergency management, etc. Why? Because responders have to be increasingly concerned about the growing use of social media as a means of calling for help. This is a huge issue. Liability? What happens when someone calls for help but no one in the fire department is listening on Twitter–or whatever channel the victim chooses? What if they are listening, but don’t respond? Will lives be lost as a transition is made? How many legal actions regarding liability will ensue? And how will the media treat this–certainly the story at some point will be, a responder knew but didn’t respond because the call didn’t come through 9-1-1.
I believe that the use of the internet as a near universal means of connecting and communicating is almost inevitable, and that means an internet version of 9-1-1 is inevitable. But, adopting this will not be easy and many questions raised in the meantime. This will be an interesting change to watch.