Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Social Media and Disaster: Hospitals On Facebook

It was the scariest day of my life. I was settled in on the couch with my husband and daughter enjoying our Sunday evening when my phone rang.

Giving it a quick look, I saw it was my cousin Sarah calling from Texas. I'd never in all my 30+ years received a call from her. Something must be wrong.


"Hi, KiKi? It's your cousin Sarah...you need to turn on the Weather Channel right now. Joplin's just been hit by a tornado and it was a big one."

Joplin, Missouri is where most of my family and friends still live. It is where I was born and while I went to high school in Carthage, Joplin is where I spent most of my time. I tried to call my mom and got through - she was fine. I tried to call my dad and it went straight to voicemail.

I left a message and tried again. This time the call didn't go through.

Immediately I jumped on to Facebook to see what I could find out from my friends in the area. They were reporting if they had made it through the storm and trying to locate others. They were reporting on damage and area landmarks that were gone. They were reporting that phone calls weren't getting through, but that they were still able to access social media using their phones. Facebook became a gathering place - a communication hub - a way to share important information with a large number of other people who had no other way to communicate with one another.

As a social media consultant, there was a lot I learned about social media during the days following the tornado in Joplin. I stationed myself behind my computer and worked remotely to try to help people find food, shelter, and places to join up with volunteers when things were changing by the minute.

I used apps like Emergency Radio on my iPhone to tune into Joplin area law enforcement to find out about areas of looting and where volunteers were being told to congregate. I listened non-stop to local station KZRG via the internet so I could update people via Facebook and Twitter about where supply drops were happening and where hot food was being delivered at different times during the day; which shelters were full and where people could go for medical supplies.

This was extremely important because St. John's Regional Medical Center had been destroyed by the tornado, leaving Freeman Health System as the one large remaining hospital in Joplin (many patients were taken to other areas for care).

Joplin's Freeman Health System is extremely active with their Facebook page, engaging with the community on a regular basis, providing not only information about clinics and health programs, but also updates on staff changes since the tornado. They used their Facebook page to communicate in the immediate aftermath of the tornado and their CEO even has a Twitter handle for outreach using that channel.

Many hospitals have figured out how to meet their task of engaging the community using tools like Facebook to hold a steady, reliable presence online.

Arkansas Heart Hospital is another one that has done a tremendous job with their Facebook page, connecting with the residents of their community and posting healthy tips and articles alongside community events to keep people informed.

Fort Belvoir Community Hospital was listed as one of the Top 50 hospitals for Facebook engagement via UbiCare's research of over 1,000 hospitals. From UbiCare's results, we learn hospitals with the best engagement provide the following:

  • They post at least 4 times per week, and up to as often as 3 times a day
  • They post videos and pictures of people for visual interest
  • They interact by using quizzes and contests

What does this mean for hospitals and the communities of people surrounding them? Just like I immediately turned to my online communities for information when the phone wouldn't connect, so many others looking for information and help in time of crisis can get up-to-the-minute information about where to take the sick and hurt if the hospital is full using Facebook.

People turn to the hospital's Facebook page to find out where, when, and how to help. The hospital can inform their staff on how to report in when phone lines are down.

My next post in this series will talk about how hospitals can start building their community engagement.

Do you have good example of hospitals using social media to share? Post in the comments here!


  1. Through the help of social media sites especially Facebook, we also become updated on different disasters and happenings in different world like Tsunami that happen in Japan and some people donate through Facebook.

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