September 9, 2011—Beyond the traditional mediums of television, print and radio, 9/11 marked the first major catastrophe where instant response was disseminated through a new kind of communication device—the cellular phone. At the time, this was the quickest method of communication and spread word of the tragedy quicker than any other medium. However, text messaging was still in its infancy and trying to get through to anyone in the affected area was nearly impossible due to signal saturation and widespread panic. Without social media, many were left clueless as to whether their loved ones were safe and were forced to wait hours and sometimes days before ever finding out.
Now, ten years later people can simply read their Twitter news feed or check someone’s Facebook wall to see if someone in the area has been affected by the event. For citizens and professionals alike, the evolution of communication technology and social media has forever changed the method in which people are informed.
To envision the evolving methods of crisis response and information gathering, one needs look no further than the recent hurricane and earthquake that shook the east coast. When the earthquake hit Virginia in the early evening in late August, news and information about the earthquake spread quicker across Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook than shockwaves flowing from the epicenter. Responses ranged from tweets about personal experiences of buildings shaking and people scattering in the streets to avoid possible structural collapse, to others checking in on family and friends and making sure everyone was safe. No matter what the focus, the information spread, and it spread fast.
For governmental relief bodies, crisis response organizations and employee assistance programs (EAP), the response was aimed at protection, crisis support resources and recovery.
For ACI Specialty Benefits—one of the nation’s top-ten EAP’s covering millions of lives worldwide—tweets, blogs, Facebook posts and e-blasts were immediately sent out to all clients and human resource managers within minutes of the initial shockwave felt in Virginia—and their headquarters is located all the way in San Diego, California.
“By quickly adapting to emerging communication technologies like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, the team at ACI has been able to create a plan and be instantaneously informed in challenging times such as the recent earthquake and hurricane that have devastated the east coast,” explains ACI Senior Vice President of Marketing Erin Krehbiel, “9/11 showed the EAP and HR world the importance of crisis preparation, response, and recovery, and by developing a variety of electronic, telephonic, and Skype resources customized for clients to handle specific crisis situations, ACI’s clients are prepared to succeed in the face of adversity.”
Governmental initiatives like the Ready.gov campaign have also sprouted as a result of the 9/11 tragedy, and urge citizens to “get a kit, make a plan, and be informed.” The campaign has taken to the airwaves, social media, as well as the internet with an entire website dedicated to assisting people in any situation on how to prepare, get informed, and respond to a variety of disasters.
Seeing the proliferation of tweets coming out of large events like the hurricane and earthquake makes one wonder—what if Twitter and Facebook were around during 9/11? Surely tweets like, “An airplane just hit the Twin Towers!” would be seen, but imagine the possibilities for those equipped with the ability to update social media from their smartphones:
“Trapped on the 68th floor of Tower 2. 12 others. Wounded, need help.”
“Men trying to hijack my United flight 93 from Newark to SF. Inform authorities, send for help.”
With this perspective, the possibilities for saving lives become much more evident.
Ronald Reagan described information as “…the oxygen of the modern age. It seeps through the walls topped by barbed wire, and wafts across the electrified borders.” The events of 9/11 have left a lasting impression of the psyche of the American people, and many citizens around the globe. Yet, the ability for instantaneous information gathering allowed by social media has equipped citizens and professionals with new technological tools to inform, respond, and save lives in the face of such tragedy—helping everyone breathe a little easier.