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Using Social Media to Manage a Disaster

Tech Trends

Using Social Media to Manage a Disaster – Version 2.0

By Marina London, LCSW, CEAP


I wrote an article on this topic in 2011, but social media and the Internet are evolving so fast that an update is needed only two years later. What has changed since then? As I write this, it is a scant 10 days since the Boston Marathon bombings.
This is what I noticed: The attacks took place at 2:49 p.m. EDT. By 2:55 p.m. I already knew the events had taken place. Over the next couple of hours I communicated with various EA professionals and family members. All of them had already heard what had happened from Twitter, Facebook and online sources like Google News.

Conversely, in 2011, when tornados devastated southern areas of the U.S, I had to e-mail the members of EAPA’s Workplace Disaster Panel, requesting they send me event-appropriate resources. They relied on me to post and publicize these resources on the EAPA website. A link on the home page connected interested parties to a static resource page.

In 2013, several panel members and I quickly posted resources on EAPA’s LinkedIn group, as we found out about them. We had a variety of informational links posted within 24 hours and almost immediately, group members began to discuss the impact of the attacks. One discussion started with questions: (1) In the wake of the Boston event, what message can the EA community send about resilience to the workers affected? (2) How key is timing in that message? (3) Is resilience even important? The LinkedIn group has almost 4,000 participants and we got our message out to hundreds more professionals than we did in 2011, when we only used the website.

I will repeat my questions from the 2011 article: Should EAPs use social media to manage a disaster? Does it work? How would you use it?

My 2013 answers: Now more than ever, even a small EAP can have a social media presence. Pick one channel, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Blogger or something else where you can easily and almost immediately connect to your EAP clients. Do a solid, proactive job of telling your clients where they can get time-sensitive information in the event of a critical incident. Some information can be gathered in advance of any crisis. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) “Disaster Kit” comes to mind.

Every disaster seems to spawn an inspiring story that goes viral. I discovered a short video posted on Facebook about Celeste and Sydney Corcoran, a mother and daughter who were severely injured in the Boston bombing. Celeste lost both of her legs. In the video, she was visited in the hospital by a young Iraq War veteran who also lost both of his legs while deployed, but was now standing tall on two artificial limbs. Celeste was crying ever so slightly as the veteran shared his story and told her that she will get through her devastating injury. It is an epic demonstration of resiliency – and it shows why these kinds of interventions can be so powerful.

References
EAPA LinkedIn group http://www.linkedin.com/groups?mostPopular=&gid=94553
EAPA Work Place Disaster Resources http://www.eapassn.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=681
Using Social Media to Manage a Disaster. Marina London. Journal of Employee Assistance, Vol. 41 no.4 - 4th Quarter 2011 http://www.eapassn.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3489
SAMHSA “Disaster Kit” http://store.samhsa.gov/product/SAMHSA-Disaster-Kit/SMA11 DISASTER?WT.ac=EB_20130416_SMA11-DISASTER
Facebook video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hy_LNYR-MiI

Marina London is Manager of Web Services for EAPA and author of iWebU, (http://www.iwebu.info,) a weekly blog for mental health and EA professionals who are challenged by social media and Internet technologies. She previously served as an executive for several national EAP and managed mental health care firms. She can be reached at m.london@eapassn.org.

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