What to do during an emergency

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Main Page | Tips for the public - what to do during an emergency

Contributor Info
Reference Group Emergency Response
Additional Contributors Eileen Culleton, Matthew Kassay

This Tips section provides user friendly tips to the public on how to use social media during an Emergency.

We can all play a role in using social media to seek emergency information and share it to help our family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and communities.

Please note that social media should be used in addition to sms messages, radio, TV, internet, newspapers and online for emergency information.

If you need emergency assistance please call your emergency service: dial 000 (Australia) 911 (USA) etc.


Finding real-time emergency information


Hashtags on Twitter

  • During an emergency, agencies, the media and the public use #hashtags eg #fire #hurricane #flood #cyclone #earthquake #tornado
  • When a #hashtag is used, the whole world online can see the message
  • Following a hashtag gives you instant information on that emergency
  • Sometimes more than one #hashtag is used eg #tsunami, #japantsunami
  • Beware – information may not be correct or rumour (which spreads quickly online)
  • Watch for official messages from emergency agencies and the media
  • download the Twitter smartphone app to receive the messages wherever you are

Twitter Alerts

Twitter Alert Example

Twitter Alerts are Tweets published by select public agencies and emergency organizations during a crisis or emergency that contain up-to-date information relevant to an unfolding event, such as public safety warnings and evacuation instructions. Alerts will appear highlighted on your home timeline and are instantly sent to your device as a mobile notification.

To set up Twitter Alerts:

  • Go to the Alerts setup page for the organization you wish to receive Alerts from (e.g., twitter.com/fema/alerts).
  • If you're not already logged in, sign in with your Twitter account; if you don't already have an account, you will be prompted to sign up for one.
  • If you wish to receive Alerts via text messages, enter or confirm your current phone number and activate Twitter text messaging to start receiving Alerts as text messages.
  • If you have the official Twitter for Android or iPhone app downloaded on your phone, you will start to receive Alerts as push notifications.

The other option is to click on the Twitter alert section on the Twitter profile of the agency. This will take you to a screen to signup for their alerts see example below:

Signing up from Agency Twitter page

List of participating organisations

To see which agencies offer Twitter alerts please visit this list [2]

For more information on Twitter Alerts please visit the Twitter Help Centre Twitter Alerts guide[3]


Emergency Agencies are using Facebook to issue warning and emergency information in real time.

  • 'like' the key agencies in your area to ensure you receive their messages.
  • download the Facebook smartphone app to receive the messages wherever you are.
  • download the Facebook Ipad app if you have an Ipad

Live broadcasting via Facebook

  • Emergency agencies are using Livestream to live broadcast media conferences on Facebook.
  • Checkout which of your agencies does it now.
  • If they do, there will be a link on their page eg this one for the Queensland Police Service Facebook Page.
  • Use Facebook to tell your friends and relatives you are safe, keep the phone lines free for emergency services

Smartphone Apps

  • Look for and download smartphone apps that provide real time, location based warning messages.
  • Checkout the wiki Smartphone Apps Directory Smartphone Apps
  • Make sure you have GPS enabled on your mobile phone to ensure you receive messages for emergencies that may put you in danger wherever you are. eg Fires Near Me NSW Android Smartphone App

Real Time Community Maps

During an emergency maps are created online to provide realtime updates from emergency agencies and the community:

  • Search the web for "Google Crisis Response"

NB: check this home page for new links (not guaranteed as this site is run by volunteers)


  • Find and watch emergency services YouTube video updates on the emergency
  • Favourite them to easily rewatch

Additional resources for people with disabilities

Communicating with your family and friends

  • Use your social networks (eg Facebook and Twitter) to communicate with your family and friends to keep the phone networks free for emergency services
  • If you have evacuated, post on your social networks so your family and friends know you are safe and where you are
  • Register your whereabouts with sites/organisations such as the Australian National Registration and Inquiry System. This site is launched during emergencies only.

Help share emergency information

If you are in an emergency and it is safe for you to do so, you can share the information publicly to warn others. You can also help by sharing emergency messages of official agencies. Examples include:


  • Send your warning message (add a hashtag) eg “Jones Bridge flooded #qldflood at 4.10pm”
  • Take a photo and send that with your tweet
  • Enable GPS on your phone so that your tweets and photos are 'geocoded'. This makes it easier for emergency agencies and the media to verify your information and pinpoint the location of the emergency. (see Twitter.com/account/settings)
  • Geocoded photos also help the media share the warnings as it enables them to quickly verify the image before circulating.
  • Take a video on your phone and send that with your sms/Tweet/Facebook message
  • State the time eg "Stuart road flooded #qldflood at 10.30am". This is important as your tweet may be retweeted hours later, by which time the road may then be reopened.
  • Retweets “Please RT”
    • You can instantly share emergency messages by retweeting
    • To quickly retweet to your followers, press the retweet button
    • To maximise the message getting out to the world, put “RT” in front of the message, then it will act like a hashtag and everyone can pick it up.
    • If the emergency agency message doesn't have a #hashtag add it yourself when you retweet the message
    • If the message doesn't have the time you need to add it before retweeting the message. Eg if it is "10.00am" and the tweet was sent 10 minutes ago, you need to state the time as "9.50am". This is important to ensure that emergency agencies, the media and the community are acting on accurate information.


  • 'Like' emergency agencies and key media
  • 'Like' emergency messages and comment on them
  • Click on 'Share' to post emergency agency messages on your own profile


  • Tweet links to Emergency services YoutTube videos
  • Share Emergency Services Youtube videos on Facebook

Real Time Community Maps

  • Add your own information on what is happening in your local area to these maps
  • Share real time maps on your Facebook page
  • Tweet links to real time maps to share with the public

Save Battery Power on your mobile phone

Image courtesy Mediawiki [1]

Top tips

  • Turn on wi-fi
  • Turn off push notifications for services you don't need (leave on emergency services notifications)
  • Turn off push mail
  • Turn off location services that you don't need (leave on apps such as emergency service apps, Twitter, camera, Facebook, maps)
  • Lower brightness
  • Turn off blue tooth
  • Turn off 3G
  • Turn off background app refresh for apps you don't need (leave on apps such as Emergency service apps, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, maps)
  • Close your background apps
  • Don't play games
  • Don't watch YouTube

Iphone Instructions

  • Turn on wi-fi - go to > Settings > Wi-Fi to access and select a Wi-Fi network
  • Turn off push notifications - go to > Settings > Notifications and set Notifications to Off.
  • Turn off push mail - go to > Settings> Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Fetch New Data and set Push to 'Off'. Then under > Fetch - "Set to Hourly" or "Manually" to get it yourself
  • Turn off the location services that you don't need (leave on Emergency service apps, Twitter, Camera, Facebook, Maps). Go to > Settings > General > Location Services. Then switch off those you don't need.
  • Lower brightness (or to dim backlight) - go to > Settings > Brightness - then move the slider to lower the brightness or you can turnon Auto-Brightness
  • Turn off bluetooth - Settings > General > Bluetooth and set Bluetooth to Off.
  • Turn off 3G (if you don't need it) Go to Settings > General > Network and set Enable 3G to Off. You will still be able to make and receive calls and access cellular data networks via EDGE or GPRS where available.
  • Turn off background app refresh - go to > Settings > General > Background App Refresh - then slide to off each app you don't need.

  • Close your background apps following the steps below:

For iOS 6 or earlier

  • double tap ‘home button’
  • This will bring up a row with all your running apps
  • Hold down the app until it wiggles.
  • A red circle with a minus sign will appear on the top left corner
  • Tap the app and it will disappear
  • The app is now closed. You can still access the app from the main menu

For iOS 7 or 8

  • double tap 'home button'
  • Close each open app by touching it and flicking it up towards the top of the screen
  • The app is now closed. You can still access the app from the main menu

For More information visit appleiphone site [4]
Also see the wiki Emergency 2.0 Stay/Go Kit Checklist [5]

(This section needs more development - tips for other phones)


Social, mapping and mobile data tell the story of Hurricane Irene, Oreilly Radar


Future Scenario - What will an emergency 2.0 responsive community look like? Emergency 2.0 Wiki

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