Organizing Theory & Artistry

Communication During an Emergency

One of the great benefits of modern communications technology is the ability to transmit life-saving information rapidly to large numbers of people during an emergency situation.

"Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Wheeler, a U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer, radios to a Coast Guard HH-65C Dolphin rescue helicopter during a search and rescue case in Oxbow N.D., March 26, 2009." Photo by Chuck Simmins. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

September is National Preparedness Month in the United States and encourages all of us to review our emergency preparations this month. Those of us on the east coast of the United States are getting a real life reminder in the form of Hurricane Earl, which fortunately has changed course and is not predicted to cause significant damage.

As you review your emergency preparations this month, don’t forget to update your emergency communications! While most people primarily rely on local or national news for emergency alerts, social networking is a new and growing tool in emergency management and there is plenty of current, local information available if you just know where to look. In just a few minutes or less, you can connect to receive valuable information that just might save your life!

1. National Emergency Information

FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has a Twitter feed with information on major national emergencies. Hurricane Earl is the primary topic of late. FEMA’s Twitter feed is followed by 17, 356 people and agencies. FEMA also has a Facebook page with 16,303 fans.  If you don’t participate in social networking, you can also sign up to receive email alerts from FEMA at this link.

2. Local Emergency Information

Since FEMA covers a huge territory and can’t possibly stay on top of every local emergency, it is good idea to stay in touch with your local emergency management department as well. provides this indexed map where you can click on your state and find your local emergency contacts. Nearly all of these agencies have Twitter or Facebook pages to share information. Some also offer email or cell phone text alerts.

In Virginia, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management has a Twitter feed and Facebook page as well as e-mail alerts.  For those in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, CapitAlert is a service for traffic, weather, terrorism and other alerts through the coordinated efforts of the governments of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

3. Really Local Information

Some of the best communications networks to have in your emergency planning are the immediate neighbors on your street. Setting up a neighborhood directory, Facebook page or Twitter account is a great way to enable neighbors to help each other. You never know when you might be stranded and need the help of those closest to you. Our neighborhood learned this lesson during last year’s severe snowstorms.

Has anyone been saved by social networking alerts though? Actually, yes! While the numbers aren’t large, there are many incredible stories of people being saved by technology.

Emergency preparedness is one of the feel-good benefits of our increasing interconnection through social networking. You never know when you could be the “friend” or “follower” that makes the difference.

What resources do you rely on for emergency information? Have a social networking rescue story to tell? Please share in the comments.

To my U.S. readers, have a wonderful Labor Day weekend!