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 Note: With hurricane season coming to the Gulf Coast in a few short weeks, it's time to work on your disaster plan. Make sure it includes social media to keep in contact with emloyees, clients and government emergency agencies.

When a deadly temblor rocked Nepal on May 12, 2015, Miriam Aschkenasy, MD, MPH, was in a medical tent, trying to help some of the 22,000 people injured in the earthquake that devastated the country only 2 weeks earlier. After the shaking stopped, Dr Aschkenasy grabbed her phone. But she quickly realized that she had no time to personally reassure everyone she knew. So after making one call to her husband and one to her mother, she clicked the Safety Check button on Facebook. Her friends instantly learned that she was OK.

"When you only have a few minutes of Internet and you need to get a message out to a lot of people at once, that's a great way to do it," says Dr Aschkenasy, an emergency medicine physician and deputy director of Massachusetts General Hospital's Global Disaster Response team.

Increasingly, people who respond to disasters are finding social media indispensable. "It is critical that many public safety agencies engage on social media platforms," says Kevin Sur, an instructor at the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (NDPTC) hosted by the University of Hawaii.

The utility of social media goes far beyond reassuring loved ones in disasters. Emergency workers and volunteers are using social media to find people in need, map damaged areas, organize relief efforts, disseminate news and guidance, attract donations, and help prepare for future disasters.

"During a disaster, traditional communication systems become overloaded and tend to fail," says Sur. "However, mobile communications—including social media—remain viable platforms because of the small amount of data needed to communicate." And, he points out, the general public has become increasingly comfortable with the various modes of social media and adept at navigating them.

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