Social networks key to communicating in emergencies

  • HOW TO USE TEXTING AND SOCIAL MEDIA:Twitter is a micro-messaging service that allows users to send 140 character messages to friends and followers on the website. There are also many free Twitter application that can be downloaded directly to ...

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  • HOW TO USE TEXTING AND SOCIAL MEDIA:Twitter is a micro-messaging service that allows users to send 140 character messages to friends and followers on the website. There are also many free Twitter application that can be downloaded directly to your cell phone. Signing up is free. Go to http://twitter.com.

    Facebook has approximately 400 million active users. The website allows you to update your status and inform people of how you are and where you are. There are also many free cell phone applications for Facebook. Signing up is free. Go to www.facebook.com.

    Most cell phones have texting capabilities and allow your message to be up to 160 characters. To send a text, go to your menu and select the "Send a Text Message" option (sometimes referred to as "Send TXT msg" or "Send SMS Msg").

    Source: American Red Cross

During weather emergencies such as hurricanes, getting in contact with loved ones can be next to impossible. With so many people making cell phone calls at the same time, networks can become jammed and calls are unable to get through.

There are alternative ways to communicate, however, before, during and after a disaster, and to send out and receive updates from family and friends.

Social media is one way that is becoming increasingly effective to keep in contact, Joe Becker, senior vice president of Disaster Services for the American Red Cross said at an event held last month by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Over the last few years, social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter have served as an open line of communication between families, neighbors, bystanders and volunteers. The most effective way to help is to communicate with people the way they already do such as through social media sites and texting.

Not only are these methods effective in keeping in contact with individuals, it's also a good way to stay informed of what's going on during the disaster, City of Victoria public information officer O.C. Garza, said.

In addition to updates on the city's website, news releases and automated e-mail and phone alerts residents can sign up for, the city plans to incorporate at least one if not two social media websites into its emergency communication plan.

"Cities are starting to jump on board with Twitter and Facebook, and so we're planning by June 1 to have an account on one of those, just in time for hurricane season," he added. "Communicating with the public is our No. 1 priority and letting them know what they can do to help, when they can come back, and where food and water stations are. And we'll use both traditional means, such as news releases, and newer forms of media. We want to make sure everyone who wants information can access it."

To register for e-mail alerts during emergencies, go to www.victoriatx.org. To register your cell phone, dial 211.