Like mobile devices, social networking gives people another way to stay in contact during or after a disaster.
"We've seen instances such as a couple of years ago when we had major snow storms on the east coast and a lot businesses shut down and employees kept in touch with each other via Facebook and Twitter vs. email," Morency says.
In some cases it might take days or weeks for a corporate data center to recover after a disaster. And if the company is relying on internal email systems that might put email service out of commission, Morency says.
"Assuming that either public or wireless networks are still available you can now be using social media to communicate, as an alternative to in-house email which may not be available," Morency says.
"If you're using a service like Gmail than it's less of an issue. But if you're using an Exchange-based internal email or directory services, than social media may be a more available alternative."
During a recent disaster test that Marist College performed, "we were curious to see how social networking would be used in case of an actual event," Thirsk says. Early one early morning the IT department launched an unannounced disaster drill. "While we had warned staff we would be doing this, they had no idea how real we were going to make it," he says.
First, Thirsk sent a message that the college was experiencing a massive system failure. Due to building conditions, staffers could not report to their work place or to the data center. "We shut down our enterprise communications systems and then watched how the staff responded," Thirsk says.
Managers quickly began communicating to their staff via outside email accounts, chat rooms, Facebook and Twitter. "They even found my personal email account off campus and began messaging me," Thirsk says.
In a matter of 20 minutes, all staff had reported to a command center in the campus library, where they were tasked with performing a number of system checks, verifications and processes. "All of this activity occurred using alternate communications methods," Thirsk says. "We documented this exercise and now use it as part of our plan."
Forrester says there are several reasons why social networking should play a role in an emergency communications strategy. For one thing, social technology adoption is increasing, and a greater portion of employees and customers have continuous access to social sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
In addition, social channels are essentially free. It costs very little to set up a Facebook, Twitter or Yammer profile, recruit followers, and send out status updates.