Although getting emergency information out to the public isn't a new idea, the mediums of social media are new; and changing almost daily.
NEW MEDIUMS - Twitter released Vine in January of this year. Keeping to its mission (brevity as a virtue) Vine videos are a short six seconds. In the aftermath of the Boston bombings, one user's Vine feed (recorded from his television) showed the world the exact moment the first bomb when off at the finish line. This moment was then retweeted 111 times and featured in major news outlets.
Social Media in Action
Mentions of the word "Boston" increased 20,000% during the emergency situation and most Facebook feeds were filled with thoughts, prayers and reflections about the situation. People are leaning on social media as a critical way to get important information quickly and find solace in community.
TWITTER - Twitter seems to be the natural place for up-to-the minute information in any situation. So, it seems a natural fit in an emergency as well. The police, city and newspapers leveraged their Twitter feeds to deliver frequent updates in the aftermath of the tragedy. In addition, the hashtag #PrayForBoston trended for hours in the aftermath. In addition, police and city officials could instruct those still at the marathon of the areas that are sectioned off for crime scene investigation, where to find their belongings at the end of the race, and other important information.
Boston Marathon Bombing" where users can post tributes, prayers and photos.
THE EVERYMAN JOURNALIST - Media/news outlets now look to average citizens and non-staffers to help them with pictures, video and updates about events. The Guardian is one such news outlet that looks for collateral from everyday people. Imagery of the tragedy is readily available anywhere online, in part, due to the fact that everyone with a phone, camera or tablet can help paint the picture of the news. Deadspin was the first to break the news of the bombing a short 13-minutes after it occurred. Its news article contained mostly information, photos and videos from various twitter feeds. Finally, there is a reddit feed that contains a compilation online news articles and mentions of the explosion.
SOLVING THE CRIME - Police and media/news outlets are looking to shutter-happy cellphone users and social media gurus that may have images of the scene before, during and after. With almost every citizen armed with a cellphone, the photos, tips and movies that get sent in just might help solve this crime.
It's hard to say where emergency response will be in the next few years, thanks to social media. With increasing numbers of people taking pictures and videos and tweeting and updating on the fly, critical information will be even more accessible in an emergency. In the event of an emergency, look to social media to pave the way.
Deadspin - A collection of updates from journalists as well as Twitter feeds
The Drum - "Boston Marathon crisis: How social media responded"
Social Heatmap of social media mentions containing "finish line"
Nextgov - "Social Media Aids First Responders and Grieving Public After Bombing"