Today members of UNT PRSSA took a trip to the North Texas Region headquarters of the American Red Cross.
The office covers the entire North Texas region and provides disaster relief, blood donations (the Red Cross collect 40% of America’s blood), health and safety services, international services and provides services for military families.
I was really excited to visit the Digital Operations Center (DigiDOC). The Red Cross uses social media to get out immediate safety information, to answer questions, to offer emotional support to those in disaster areas and to thank supporters and donors.
During emergency situations social media has proved to be the best way to get out information to the public. Amy Chen, regional marketing program manager for the North Texas region says that traditional media can not keep up with constant changes that occur in an emergency. For example, when the media wants to know the locations of emergency shelters that will open, Chen directs them to the DFW Red Cross Twitter account for updates because information can change every half hour.
As a part of a response team, the Red Cross will send a photographer to help document events. This is a part of their overall communications effort that shows the DFW Red Cross’ stewardship efforts and provides transparency to their many audiences.
The photographers are volunteers- Chen says 95% of people representing the Red Cross are volunteers, this includes, bloggers, spokespeople, digital, graphic designers and videographers.
The DigiDOC in the Dallas office is one of two in the nation, the first one in the Red Cross National headquarters in D.C. The Dallas DigiDOC opened in April 2014- Dallas being a great fit because it is the fifth largest Red Cross region in the nation, they already had a large social media presence and Texas unfortunately happens to be in the middle of disaster prone area.
Chen says the center, which is powered by Dell is a great example of a corporate partnership which shows partner expertise, and the blending of the mission and philanthropic goals with the needs of the organization.
The digital volunteers help run the digital operations center by taking information from social media to make decisions and help spread awareness that integrates with the Red Cross’ Digital Response Operations. Most digital volunteers work remotely. The DigiDOC uses Radian6, a social media monitoring system, to to pull tweets in real time by searching disaster related words and geographic locations.
Chen says that Hurricane Sandy in 2012 serves as a model of how the Red Cross can use social media to repose to an emergency. Over 20 million tweets were made about the storm in four days, which was not expected.
The Red Cross always needs volunteers and Chen says that her ideal digital volunteer candidate is someone who is a communications professional (or a PR student) which is definitely something to think about as I finish school and look for potentially rewarding things to do with all the free time that I will have once I am no longer a student!