San Mateo County health agency turns to social media for spreading news 

The San Mateo County Health System is ramping up its social-media presence to ensure the agency can deliver timely information to the community after a crisis.

Like other government agencies, the Health System is recognizing that social-media platforms can rapidly deliver nearly real-time updates during a disaster or emergency.

"Social media has fundamentally shifted disaster response by offering the public real-time engagement and information," said Robyn Thaw of the San Mateo County Health System.

The agency plans to use Twitter and Facebook to provide reliable information, guidance, resources and social services support before, during and after emergencies.

The Health System selected the two social media outlets because they are the most widely used platforms during and after a disaster, Thaw said. According to a recent Red Cross study, social media is now the fourth most popular way to get information in disaster situations — following TV, radio and online news.

One reason for social media's popularity is that during recent disasters residents turned to Twitter, Facebook and other platforms when landlines and cellphone service failed.

Social media allows for communications about the emergency as well as for communication with loved ones, said Cynthia Shaw of the Red Cross.

County governments are recognizing that as people rely on social media more and more, government agencies and relief organizations need to become experts in their use, Shaw said.

The Health System's existing communication team is responsible for maintaining our social media accounts, and they are working on regional cooperation with other County agencies, such as the Red Cross, County's Sheriff's Office, fire and others, Thaw said.

The Health System is running a campaign that aims to generate public awareness of the agency's Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as increase earthquake readiness in the county.

"Providing the public with consistent, accurate and timely information during a crisis greatly alleviates public anxiety," said Dr. Scott Morrow, health officer for San Mateo County.

In the future, the agency plans to continue to increase community awareness of its Facebook and Twitter pages.

Thaw also said that "what to do during an earthquake" is a high priority education campaign because "that's a 'when,' not an 'if' event."

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