Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Twitter, Social Media and Emergency Preparedness!

Today, I spent an hour or so introducing a group of Medical Reserve Corps leaders to the world of Twitter. I have personally been using Twitter for a number of months. In fact, this blog feeds to my Twitter account automatically.

Now, for those who are working in the fields of emergency preparedness and public health, Twitter has a great deal to offer in terms of the aggregation of vast amounts of information on specific topics of interest. Swine flu has been an excellent example of Twitter's utility for keeping track of trends vis-a-vis the development of the disease, especially when such players as the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services, FEMA, and the FDA chime in on their Twitter feeds multiple times per day.

Someone in our training stated that it's remarkable that the CDC and other large organizations actually pay someone to aggregate their material and post it on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites. However, I would beg to differ. I would actually find it remarkable if these organizations chose to not utilize social networking as a means of getting their message out there. There are segments of the population who rely on social networking for news, friendship, professional networking and entertainment, and savvy organizations with something to communicate are intelligently jumping on this bandwagon.

In terms of my friends and colleagues in the emergency preparedness world, one of my warnings was that, while Twitter and other sites can be fun and informative, it is best to keep a tight rein on who one chooses to follow and how much time one devotes to such an endeavor. Social media can be an enormous time waster, and even the most diligent of us can be unwittingly sucked in, even when the clock is ticking and there is work to be done.

That said, if one is interested in knowing the latest information on swine flu, public health threats, fires, product recalls and disease outbreaks, there is a veritable river of useful information flowing on Twitter that can keep one up to speed on a daily basis.

Social networking has certainly found a variety of audiences, and it remains to be seen how these applications will change and grow as they become more popular and their creators decide how to monetize them. Twitter is still a free service that's 100% free of ads, but I'm fairly certain that we will eventually see some form of ads on Twitter, just as we have seen ads develop as Facebook found its place in the online universe.

For emergency preparedness folks, tracking the trends and keeping in touch with colleagues on the front lines is a very useful way to apply Twitter to the work that we do. When emergency response teams on the ground can post brief and informative up-to-the-minute tweets about their current status vis-a-vis an ongoing emergency, everyone wins. And when we can easily track the progress of a new disease or other emerging threat with an application that's easy to use and free, there truly seems to be nothing to lose.

I'm happy to be opening my colleague's eyes to the uses of blogging and social for public health and emergency preparedness and response, and if these processes and applications actually serve to improve lives or otherwise positively impact our good work in the world, then I am a happy nurse indeed.
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