This post originally appeared on a Red Cross chapter blog, Colorado Stories. By Patricia Billinger
In today’s information age, news travels fast about disasters happening all over the world. Less than 24 hours after a fire forced more than 130 seniors to evacuate from an apartment building in Littleton, Colorado, family in Ireland had already heard the word and were worried for their relative, Pat O’Connor. Pat was among the seniors who evacuated, first to a temporary evacuation point and then to a Red Cross shelter set up in a church across the street from the apartment building.
Pat is one of a family of eight siblings (six boys and two girls), most who still live in Ireland. According to his family, he has numerous nieces and nephews, as well as grand nieces and grand nephews in Ireland.
“I first learnt of the fire via a phone call from my dad (Pat’s brother),” said Leanne O’Connor, one of Pat’s nieces in Ireland. “Pat’s partner’s daughter had sent a message to my cousin over here to tell him about the fire and the message was disseminated through the family from there.”
Many of the evacuated seniors were without a steady form of communication, having left behind cell phones when they evacuated, never owning cell phones, or – in the case of a few seniors with family overseas – not able to afford the high cost of placing international calls from a cell phone. Worried about the fate of her uncle, Leanne hopped on the internet to find out more.
“I Googled the fire and came across a news article that mentioned the Red Cross Denver with their tweets regarding the fire,” Leanne explained. Hungry for information and updates, she followed @redcrossdenver on Twitter.
The American Red Cross is often considered a national leader in using social media during emergencies – known in the industry as #SMEM – and makes it a regular practice to share informational updates, lifesaving tips and advice, and guidance on how to give and get help during disasters large and small. The 130-unit apartment evacuation in Littleton was no exception; local Red Cross staff and volunteers were actively sharing information on Twitter, Facebook and redcross.org.
In addition to the updates posted to Twitter, Red Cross staff responded to Leanne’s inquiry on the social media platform and were able to confirm that that he was safely staying with a daughter.
“The information that I was able to obtain from your Twitter account administrator was invaluable as it put our minds at ease over here in Ireland,” Leanne said. “I cannot thank you enough!”
Leanne said Pat has been in contact with a few family members since the fire, although his contact has been limited due to the expense of making international calls from a cell phone.
“I’d just like to reiterate my thanks for all the information you were able to provide to extremely worried relatives in Ireland,” Leanne said. “The power of Twitter is just amazing!”