It started with a phone call from staff, Regional CEO John Hughes’ American Red Cross Lehigh Valley chapter turned on the television to learn from multiple media sources, some even reporting from helicopters, the details being reported ‘live’ about the explosion, the fire, and the toll in human lives and property. He said that when something like this happened, it creates a need or desire for people to “do something.” One example was Hughes receiving a call on his cell phone from Actress Sharon Stone who hails from Pennsylvania asking what she and her charitable foundation could do to help. Existing faith-based and business groups immediately came together to offer help. He said that less cohesive informal networks “saw a need, they jumped in, they did what they could with the need, they felt bad about what had happened, then they moved on” all in the span of two weeks to a month.
John Hughes was deployed to the fairgrounds to address the primary needs of safety, shelter, food, clothes, and medications. When he arrived at the temporary shelter he asked something that he and his counterparts may not have contemplated five years ago or more. He asked “does anyone have the capacity to use Facebook and Twitter to tell people what’s going on here?” A nearby volunteer took out his smart phone and began using social media to get the message out almost immediately. Hughes said “I never really understood the value of it, but now I see how it can be used as a tool of great value”. Taking the initiative improve his skills for future disasters, he opened multiple accounts including Twitter and Skype in preparation for upcoming Red Cross training in the use of social media in disasters.
If you were a Red Cross official, how would you better prepare to use technology in the next local diaster?