Web users see Twitter, Facebook as 911 backup

When his phone battery ran low, instead of dialing 911 and possibly languishing on hold, Atlanta Councilman Kwanza Hall tweeted, "Need a paramedic on corner of John Wesley Dobbs and Jackson st. Woman on the ground unconscious. Pls ReTweet," according to WSBTV.

Within moments, Twitter followers retweeted his message and several called 911. Paramedics were able to rush the woman to the hospital.

Hall is not alone in treating social media as a way to reach emergency responders.

When asked what they would do if they needed help in an emergency and got a busy signal after repeatedly dialing 911, roughly one in five  (18 percent) who were surveyed online by the American Red Cross say they would try to reach emergency responders through digital methods, including email, websites, or social media.

And 55 percent of those surveyed expect help to arrive within 30 minutes.

The findings are based on a survey of more than 1,000 adults who were polled last month about their use of social media sites in emergency situations. More than two-thirds of those surveyed agree that emergency response agencies such as FEMA or the American Red Cross should regularly monitor and respond to postings on their websites.

Almost half (49 percent) assume that a request for help posted to the social media site of an emergency response organization would be acted upon.

Among those surveyed who would use social media channels in an emergency to let their friends/family know they were safe, 86 percent would choose Facebook, while 28 percent would opt for Twitter.

To learn more:
- here's the American Red Cross report on social media in disasters and emergencies
- read the Red Cross's press release
- check out the WSBTV story