12 Days of SMEM: Joplin Tornado Response

If you could pick out the most shocking and devastating disaster in the United States this year, it would have to be the tornado season. From the catastrophes in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri to tornadoes in unusual places like Philadelphia, this year has been unlike any before.

And a key part of those responses and recoveries has been the integration of social media. Take Joplin, Missouri as an example. I’ve heard stories of a Facebook fan page that was set up by a private citizen and was attracting hundreds to thousands of more followers than the the official Joplin, MO page. So the Joplin officials started posting official updates to the Page they didn’t control because getting the information out was the most important thing!

But that’s not really public health, so let’s look at the experience of St. John’s Regional Medical Center. You know the one, direct hit by an F5 tornado? That indelible image of the twisted helicopter wreckage? There are reports that using social media and text messaging was useful in the immediate aftermath to contact families and employees, but I don’t have more information than that presented. If you know of anything, please do let me know.

I’d like to talk, though, about the St. John’s hospital Facebook page. It was posting updates within hours of the tornado hit and served as both a rallying point and information distribution point. Constantly updated, it was one of the positive outcomes of this disaster.

First post: 


Updates on victims:


Coordinating volunteers:


Patient follow-up with contact information:


Debris recovery (including personal health information):


As you can see, these posts continue throughout the night, next day and beyond. For those of us in public health that provide medical care, this could be that other tool in the toolbox that could point people who can’t wait for the next press release in the right direction for more information.


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