First responders embrace social media

Contractors see emerging market

Federal contractors are using social media mainly for publicity, communication and collaboration. But there also is a growing interest in social media for emergency response.

According to a recent survey by the American Red Cross, many people are now using Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to report emergencies or call for help.

The survey indicated that 18 percent of adults would turn to digital social media if calls to 911 were unsuccessful; 74 percent said that if they used digital media, they would expect help to arrive within the hour.

“The social Web is creating a fundamental shift in disaster response — one that will ask emergency managers, government agencies and aid organizations to mix time-honored expertise with real-time input from the public,” Gail McGovern, president of the American Red Cross, said in a news release.

Federal contractors are addressing the issue.

  • Lockheed Martin Corp.’s Advanced Technology Lab in Cherry Hill, N.J., is researching how Twitter and other social media are used in incident and disaster communication and response to find out if those tweets can be analyzed to obtain useful information for federal agencies. A Lockheed team working with the University of Maryland has been tracking tweets on Twitter and images on YouTube and Flickr. The research is sponsored by the Defense Department’s Office of Naval Research.
  • AtHoc Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., recently expanded its mass notification system to include the capability of sending alerts through social networking channels, according to a recent announcement. The alerts can go to Twitter, Facebook or other social media sites.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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