Social Media: New Face of Disaster Response (infographic, analysis)

Written by David Michaelis — Alerting your family and community to the next tidal wave or seasonal storm is an essential social instinct. Back in the day, the typical response to a disaster was via a landline phone call — and all lines would be down at exactly that wrong moment. Or so it seemed.

That’s why smartphone tech, apps, and other techniques save lives. Minutes matter. Phone lines might crash but SMS will function. And GPS mapping tech has and will continue to save lives.

People lose their orientation and their cool during sudden catastrophic events. A cell phone or smartphone is grounding — and they are, ironically, two of the few lifelines available in times of emergency. In Oklahoma City and surrounds, residents had fewer than 15 minutes of warning before tornadoes ripped their neighborhoods apart. Similarly, an earthquake comes with just a few seconds of warning. That’s why relief workers and first responders need all the help they can get to save lives and reduce suffering for disaster-affected communities. Working in partnership with local media and aid organizations, social media has the potential to have a big and positive impact.

Here are a few ways people use social media during a natural disaster:

– 20% of Americans have used an emergency app

– 18% have retrieved emergency information through Facebook

– 25% send Twitter DMs

– 37% use social media to buy supplies and find shelter

Read on for more information below, and see this infographic.

Take a look at the Global Emergency Overview mobile app, below.

What is GEO: The Global Emergency Overview (GEO) mobile application is designed to improve emergency relief workers’ access to up-to-date information and analysis on crisis impact, needs, and response gaps. The GEO is also designed to create shared situation awareness at the early stage of a disaster. This will eventually improve the effectiveness of humanitarian operations, including addressing the information and communication needs of disaster-affected communities.

GEO consists of a web-interface as well as apps for mobile telephones and tablet computers on both iOS and Android platforms.

The idea: GEO provides an easily accessible, updated snapshot of natural disasters and complex emergencies at a global level. This overview is combined with a more in-depth analysis, including sectoral analysis through the Disaster Needs Analysis (DNA), which the Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS) has been producing since mid-2010. Until the launch of GEO, the DNAs were shared in PDF format. GEO provides a more-agile manner in which to share the analysis and, equally important, receive feedback from responders in the field. This will enhance humanitarian needs assessments and contribute toward a better response to calamity.

One million people are affected by natural disasters each year. In the U.S. alone, some 400 people die from disasters that cost the economy $17.6 billion. Helping respond to these cataclysmic events, social media is now a go-to tool for those effected by disasters. Even if you do not believe in climate change, this new weird weather stormy reality is here to stay. Extreme weather is a global phenomena.

One in five Americans has used an emergency app. Of those Americans effected by natural disasters, 76% used social media to contact friends and family; 37% of used social media to help find shelter and supplies; and 24% used social media to let loved ones know they’re safe. These number will grow exponentially with the weather changing, and the warning coming at short notice.

Based in Australia, David Michaelis is a world-renowned international journalist and founder of Link Tv. At, he covers the global beat, focusing on politics and other international topics of note for our readers in a variety of forums. Email him at