Could your brand call on a million volunteers in a crisis?


When it comes to using ‘new’ media to assist in a disaster, the Red Cross is normally ahead of the curve. In 1881 the Telegraph was used to relay disaster response communications. Fifty years later, amateur radio users helped relay disaster messages on behalf of the Red Cross across the United States. Following research commissioned in 2010 that showed over 70% of web users would expect a response via social media channels and a White Paper on The Case for Integrating Crisis Response with Social Media the American Red Cross recently announced a joint initiative with Dell in opening a Digital Operations Centre to help expand the Red Cross’s ability to engage with the public during emergencies.

Located in the Red Cross National Disaster Operations Center in Washington, D.C., the center is modeled after Dell’s Social Media Listening Command Center. The primary aim of the Operations Centre is to help the Red Cross to:

  • Source additional information from affected areas during emergencies to better serve those who need help;
  • Spot trends and better anticipate the public’s needs; and
  • Connect people with the resources they need, like food, water, shelter or even emotional support.

Perhaps even more interesting than the opening of the Operations Centre is the announcement of a digital volunteer programme to help the Red Cross during emergencies. It’s a pretty logical move for the Red Cross when you think about it. With just under 700,000 followers on twitter and over 400,000 fans on Facebook they have a pretty wide net they can throw when a disaster hits.

For more information on the Operations Centre and how it works the Red Cross have posted a video here

Given the speed at which a crisis can strike (whether it’s physical, operational or reputation based) it strikes me that an operations or command centre (even if it is just a dedicated desk) seems to be a necessity for most organisations these days.

What do you think? Should organisations maintain a dedicated social media crisis centre? Have you seen an example of an organisation using their fan base to help in times of crisis?

and let us know what you think

    Comments so far

    1. shane dillon says:

      Should organisations maintain a dedicated social media crisis centre?

      Organisations should maintain a crisis centre with social media incorporated into into the crisis centre. My sense is that it would be a big ask for organisations to create a separate dedicated social media crisis centre. My hunch is that what tends to happen is the Digital, Communications or press department deal with crisis social media.

      Inside a crisis centre that includes the latest AV equipment, social media streams should be showing on these screens alongside size Sky and BBC. However within the Crisis centre the organisation should dedicate a crisis digital hub to monitor, message and curate social media.

      However organisations that are good at occupying the physical space in a crisis need to get hold of the digital space. This can be done from within a crisis centre or from Mombassa to Miami, Beirut to Bangladesh with a Digital Emergency Response Team (DERT) who can set up quickly and communicate with the Crisis Centre.

      The members of your Digital Emergency Response Team (DERT) would be mainly drawn from your own staff. However this need not be the case in every crisis. You could supplement your DERT team with digital volunteers along the lines of the Red Cross. They are doing it on a macro level I would suggest organisations in combination with a DERT combine a small amount of volunteers. What would this look like? your Digital Emergency Response Team could be short of digital mapping skills so they could reach out and ask for a volunteer digital mapper to join the DERT Team.

      I think the Red Cross example you cite is really good. No, I have not found any example of an organisation reaching out to its fan base in a time of crisis. If they do they ask that the fan base to explicitly help them in a crisis beyond a possible appeal to retweet or share. You could class this an appeal to help but if they asked for more the fans could be tasked with social media monitoring basically your eyes and ears.

      I could think of risks associated with much of what I have written above but its Bank Holiday in the UK so I will leave the risks for a work day.

    2. Justin Kerr-Stevens says:

      Thanks for your comment Shane. I agree, a dedicated resource centre for most organisations is probably a bit ambitious at the moment, particularly in the current climate.

      I hadn’t seen the DERT link before. Sounds like a sensible way of preparing for and managing a crisis. I know the Australian Government’s Disaster Response Plan includes a similar model (

      I’m still curious to see if a brand has managed to leverage a similar model when a crisis hits. I’ll let you know if I find anything.

      Thanks for the comment – and on a bank holiday no less!

    3. Craig says:

      This is already being done in Australia – though not formally online.

      Offline we have the SES (State Emergency Service), volunteers who provide emergency response to communities.

      Online we’ve had several volunteer groups emerge who support emergencies via online tools and support. Though these are not officially endorsed, funded or supported, some government agencies are already beginning to engage these volunteers in semi-official ways during natural disasters.

    Comments are closed.

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