As reported in the December 2007 issue of Security Management, the American Red Cross's Southeast region worked with the web site Twitter.com on a way to release critical information, such as evacuation information and shelter locations, during an emergency.
The group had a chance to test the updates during October's California wildfires.
Twitter is a social networking web site that allows individuals to keep tabs on friends and family by having users continually update their answers to the question, "What are you doing?" When someone sends information to Twitter, it is added to their profile page and can be sent to contacts via instant message, SMS text message, and other mechanisms.
Ike Pigott, director of communications and government relations for the Red Cross' Southeast region, told Security Management that the use of Twitter would be a way to reach a younger demographic. Additionally, he noted that text messages are often the last communication mode to stop working in a disaster due to low bandwidth and their ability to reroute until delivered.
Pigott said the Red Cross had a chance to roll out a few Twitter updates during the wildfires. However, Pigott pointed out that evacuation plans and updates during a wildfire are much different than during another type of disaster:
A wildfire evacuation is a very different animal. For one, the threat in a given area changes from day to day, so there's no good way to funnel people in a uniform direction. Two, the communication and support
infrastructure remained intact.
Pigott said the Red Cross is still looking for an opportunity to do more with the updates.