Red Cross, Verizon use social, mobile in Isaac recovery

WASHINGTON: The American Red Cross and Verizon Wireless are using mobile and social media to help the relief efforts following Hurricane Isaac.

WASHINGTON: The American Red Cross and Verizon Wireless are using mobile and social media to help the relief efforts following Hurricane Isaac.

The Red Cross is reaching out to people affected by the storm through social media and its hurricane mobile app. While national media attention has begun to shift away from Isaac, social media is helping the organization spread the word of its ongoing efforts, said Anne Marie Borrego, director of media relations at the American Red Cross.

“The cameras are starting to pull back, but we're entering a flood phase, and a lot of people in Louisiana are still without power and air conditioning,” she said. “This stage [of the disaster] is not necessarily sexy with the news media, but it's a big operation for us.”

Before and during the storm, the Red Cross encouraged people in affected areas to download its hurricane mobile app, which it launched about a month ago. The app provides disaster preparedness tips, shelter locations, and safety alerts. It also includes an “I'm Safe” button, which when pushed will transmit that message to the user's social networks.

Social media also plays a key role in the Red Cross' efforts during and after a hurricane. The organization has used Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and videos to inform people of safety information and provide emotional support, Borrego said. For example, the Red Cross tweeted at people in the storm's path to say “we're thinking of you,” and it posted videos on YouTube sharing evacuees' stories.

The organization's digital operations center, launched in March in partnership with Dell, monitors conversation on social media about disasters. As of Friday, the Red Cross had pulled 150,000 social conversations about Hurricane Isaac, Borrego said. Three full-time social strategists conduct direct outreach through social media, along with a group of digital volunteers and mental health professionals.

The Red Cross also uses social media and mobile to promote fundraising for disaster recovery. In partnership with the organization, Verizon Wireless has implemented a mobile giving program allowing customers to donate to the Red Cross' relief efforts in Hurricane Isaac's aftermath.

Using their mobile phones, Verizon customers can make a $10 donation by texting REDCROSS to the number 90999, with the option of giving up to five times more than their original donation. Verizon is waiving text messaging fees for the program. Working with Weber Shandwick, Verizon is promoting the mobile giving program through social media, traditional media, and among employees.

“We're demonstrating that the use of our technology is quickly mobilizing communities and the public to contribute to disaster areas. The process to be able to leverage funds used to take a lot of time,” said Elva Lima, executive director for community relations at Verizon Wireless.

The Red Cross published a survey Friday that found Americans have become increasingly reliant on mobile devices during emergencies. Mobile apps are tied with social media as the fourth-most-popular way to get information during a disaster, following TV, radio, and online news, and 20% of Americans have obtained emergency information from an app, the survey said.

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