author Marlee Hirson, Wednesday November 11, 2015

Social media is everywhere. For many, it’s the most dominant source of information. Whether it be through Facebook, Twitter, or instant messaging, we receive updates about current events at an exceptionally fast rate. This can be a great thing as it can keep people informed in a crisis. But it can also be a bad thing; when the information or updates we are receiving aren’t accurate or we are being overwhelmed with contradicting information, social media hurts more than it helps.

When it comes to informing campuses about emergencies or safety alerts, push notifications via a campus safety app are far more effective for notifying students than alerting students via social media channels.

Reliability Through a Single Source

Having a main form of communication for campus emergencies is simple and reliable. It removes the frenzy and confusion of receiving multiple messages about an event from different sources and channels. During a recent campus shooting in Syracuse, students and faculty were informed about the shooting details through campus emails and text messages, and then by social media after the campus alerts weren’t able to fit in all the information.

The problem with this is that there is the potential for false information to sent through social media, giving students and faculty on campus the wrong information. The potential for students and faculty to be given faulty information during an emergency situation can lead to further danger. The push notification feature from a mobile safety app avoids this problem altogether by being the single source of emergency information and the most accessible, as it is sent to every device even when the app isn’t running.

Containing the Emergency

An emergency can easily become escalated when there are multiple conversations about the event occurring on social media, causing students to panic. Panic is contagious, so if students and staff are becoming more panicked, the university has to control the student body, as well as deal with the emergency at hand. Using the campus safety app as the sole source of information during an emergency minimizes the multiple conversations that are occurring on social media, which adds fuel to the fire.

The Lack of Control for Emergency Personnel

It’s not just about panic though. The blessing and curse of social media is that everyone has equal access to it - even the bad guys. It’s quite common during emergency situations for users to take photos and post them to social media. While this action has good intentions, police forces regularly discourage users from doing this as this can provide valuable information to someone undertaking a criminal act. A great example of this was during the October 22, 2014, at Parliament Hill in Ottawa where users began taking photos of the positions of emergency personnel responding to the crisis and identifying their positions in the city.

In the end, social media doesn’t give the emergency team enough power to control the message. With push, this is no issue, as those messages can only be sent by authorized personnel with accurate information.

The Power of Push Notifications

Using social media to inform students and staff about critical information isn’t the most effective medium because users won’t receive updates if they aren’t connected to the network. Twitter is a common communication tool and one of the problems with relying on Twitter for communication updates is that the safety updates will get lost in the user’s other updates. Push notifications will come up on the user’s home screen as soon as the message is sent.

Do you think social media is useful during emergencies? Have you sent out emergency notifications via social media? What was your experience? Let us know what you think and comment below!

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