In an emergency, would you tweet for help?

Red Cross study shows one in five people would turn to Facebook, Twitter in a crisis

If you couldn't reach 911 in an emergency, what would you do? Call a neighbor? Scream for help? Post a plea for assistance on Facebook?

According to an American Red Cross study on emergency situations, 20% said they would reach out for help through e-mail and social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. The survey of 1,058 U.S. adults ages 18 and over was conducted July 22 and 23.

The survey, released today, also showed that 35% of those surveyed would post a request for help directly on a response agency's Facebook page, and 28% would send a direct Twitter message to emergency responders.

"The first and best choice for anyone in an emergency situation is to call 911," said Gail McGovern, American Red Cross president and CEO, in a statement. "But when phone lines are down or the 911 system is overwhelmed, we know that people will be persistent in their quest for help and use social media for that purpose."

People around the world have increasingly been turning to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter during a crisis.

Early last year, when a US Airways jet made an emergency water landing on New York's Hudson River, survivors and those arriving early on the scene were tweeting from the middle of the river. In 2008, people were tweeting from the site of a terrorist attack in Mumbai, India.

And during the 2009 Iranian government crackdown over disputed elections, Twitter became a lifeline for Iranians looking for information and trying to send information out of the country.

Now, though, it seems that a growing number of people are expecting their favorite social networks to help them during an emergency.

The study also showed that 69% of those surveyed think first responders, like police and firefighters, should be monitoring social networking sites so they'll know immediately when someone posts a plea for help. And 74% said they expect help to arrive within an hour from their first tweet or Facebook post.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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