Social Media’s Role in Disaster Response

Being engaged in disaster response is the simplest it has ever been. From seconds after a disaster hits to months later during rebuilding, social media has allowed me and many others the ability to be more immersed and informed in disaster response efforts than ever before. With a tap of a screen, not only do I have access to information about disaster response efforts from all over the world, but I am also provided with timely information about how to become involved in these disaster response efforts. In the midst of disaster response, non-profit organizations can reach out to the public for donations by means of a much cheaper and more convenient medium. For example, During the Fort McMurray wildfires of 2016, the Canadian Red Cross held an extremely effective social media campaign, collecting more than $300 million dollars in donations.


Although there are some disadvantages of the use of social media in disaster response, such as the spread of misinformation or biased information to the public, I believe the future of social media’s role in disaster response is bright. In my opinion, the potential for this type of communication is unlimited. The future could possibly include live broadcasts of disaster response efforts, allowing the immediate transfer of information to the public via social media. Already, Facebook has also implemented “Safety Check” where users can check in to tell their families that they are safe during times of disaster. This is a huge step forward in disaster response at a much more personal level.


I conducted a small survey regarding social media’s presence in disaster response during the Fort McMurray wildfires of 2016 to support my idea that the use of social media during disaster response is effective. 20 of the 21 participants of my survey agreed that social media was effective in informing the public on the Fort McMurray wildfire disaster response.


All respondents of the survey said that they were more inclined to look to social media to find out about disaster response rather than other mediums such as television and print. Most described that they chose social media rather than television or print media because they found it more convenient and also a much faster way of obtaining information about the Fort McMurray wildfires. One respondent added, “News is reported via on-line sources first. TV or print can be hours or even days behind.”


I also asked participants if they could provide an example of a disaster relief method, during the Fort McMurray wildfires, that they learned of via social media. Many described seeing the Red Cross donation campaign, hearing about offers from local businesses to displaced Fort McMurray residents, learning about firefighters from all over the world coming to help, as well as evacuation centers and clothing drives. Two individuals also mentioned learning about the Facebook safety check during that time. This alone proves that social media holds great potential in terms of disaster relief as individuals remember the information given to them by this medium months later.


We live in a world where information is at our fingertips – and rightly so. During situations of disaster response, it is important to get information out to the public as fast as possible and to inform as many people that you can. Social media is the most convenient way for many individuals to view this information; therefore, in this day and age, the use of social media in disaster response is Vital. Social media has been proven extremely effective in terms of disaster and in my opinion, can only improve from here.

– Paige Simpson



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