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Disasters Test Hospital Social Media Strategies

Anna Webster, for HealthLeaders Media, August 31, 2011

"There were goodbyes and the ambulances and relay teams it just kept coming and coming," said Arleen Ryback director of public affairs for SIUH. "It was also very sad for caregivers to see their patients leave, it was very poignant in many respects."

Though all hospitals are required to have Hospital Emergency Incident Command System (HEICS) – only a few may end up putting the plan to use. A few months ago, SIUH underwent a HEICS review, which emphasized that one of the key pieces of the communication network during a disaster is social media.

"[The reviewers] were very impressed that we were set up to use social media in the event of an emergency," Ryback said. "Not all hospitals are set up to do that."

The bigger question here is how would hospitals like SIUH be able to handle an emergency situation without social media? Ryback says that the hospital system wanted to cover all its bases with communication in order to keep staff, patients, and the community updated.

A quarter of respondents from a June Red Cross survey said that in an emergency, they would turn to social media to alert loved ones that they were safe. Also, 80% responded that national emergency response organizations should regularly monitor social media sites in order to respond quickly.

In the event of a power outage (and inaccessible email) updating staff or the community would be impossible without rapid communication tools such as Twitter and Facebook.

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