Shootings, both on and off college campuses, have made headlines every month for the past year.
A recent California school shooting, the drive-by motorcyclist in France, Virginia Tech police officer, the terrorist in Norway… the list goes on and on.
Aside from the heroes at the location, trying to stop the deranged shooters, there have been others who have saved lives.
And they congregated on Twitter. They did not rush to the scene or go on television. They tweeted.
Nearly every university and organization has an alert system in place. They can be effective. Twitter however, can be more useful.
It provides constant real-time updates by those on the scene. Twitter can serve as a platform warning others of dangerous situations and users can advise followers of advisable actions.
The Oakland Police Department, the chief responders in the April 2, 2012 California school shooting at Oikos University, sent out many informative (and life-saving) tweets:
The police department were not the only ones tweeting public safety information, news agencies were as well:
School systems such as the DeKalb Country school district, have already added social media tools to their emergency alert systems.
Pros and Cons
There can be downsides to turning to Twitter in emergency situations. Locations and threats can be misconstrued, and facts distorted.
Evidence of this? The 2007 photo of the Virginia Tech massacre that recirculated during VT’s 2011 shooting. Many believed that a photo of multiple armed officers was real time, but was actually an old photo.
Therefore, universities should be careful to filter citizen and student tweets during emergency and crisis situations.
However, this underscores the need for factual information on the micro-blogging platform, because people are constantly using it — including community members and civilians not included on a school text alert system.
If your school is not on Twitter, encourage them to get there and establish an official, authoritative voice. Twitter is often where students will turn first, and your school should be a voice of accurate information in emergencies.
Wendy Harman, the social strategy director at the Red Cross, explains that “having socialized DNA in an organization will prepare you to prepare others in cases of emergency and crisis. You have to prepare yourself to prepare others.”
Schools should create a plan before they need one.
In addition to your university’s official social media communication, there are ways for students to get important information during a campus emergency.
Follow people in your community whom you would trust to report accurate information in a crisis. For example, the mayor’s office, local television stations, police and fire departments.
If there are either too many of them, or you don’t want to follow all of them, simply create a list within Twitter.
That way you don’t have to follow them, they won’t show up in your Twitter feed unless you seek them out.
Harman says “there is an insatiable need for information during disaster situations”. So proactively create a good list of people to follow. Again, make a plan before you need one.
There are many useful Twitter search tools. You can search for inforation based on real-time location by using search terms such as near:Miami within:5mi. The only results that should appear are tweets that were posted from within 5 miles of Miami.
Try it out so you know how to use search in an emergency.
The site Nearby Tweets offers a similar function.
You can also uncover key information with Trendsmap, which tracks trends in metro areas.
Also try the traditional hashtag search.
Try a variety of search terms, starting with the location and the event. #JolpinTornado.
Another interesting trick: Search the location along with terms such as #OMG or #Terrified. If the disaster is not anticipated, people will have emotions about it. Search for the terms that correlate with these emotions.
it’s important to keep in mind that Twitter can produce overwhelming amounts of information.
Tweets can be informative, but remember to view them through a filter.
The key takeaway? Prepare a Twitter crisis plan. Become familiar with tweet locations and Twitter search tools, so when a crisis hits, both you and your university will be prepared.
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