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      Social networking sites in emergencies

      Smart phone with social networking site applications / Photo by: Chad Douglas

      A national safety group says Text messaging, Twitter and social networking Web sites could help families stay in touch in the wake of a disaster.

      The Safe America Foundation announced this week a national campaign to train families about alternate ways of staying in touch if traditional communication methods are not working.

      More than 200,000 people are expected to take part in drills of alternative emergency communication tools starting on Sept. 11 and lasting through mid-October.

      Some people are individuals who pledged on the organization's Web site.

      Others are employees of companies that plan to hold safety drills and training sessions.

      If you'd like to sign up, you can go to

      KHQA uses Twitter and Facebook to get the word out about breaking news stories, or to give updates on some things we're working on.

      If you'd like, look us up on either website and follow us.

      We recently checked in with two Emergency Management Directors to see how technology can help or hurt in an emergency situation.

      John Hark has been in emergency management for 38 years. In that time he's seen technology improve.

      "Technology is moving faster than I can keep up with it," says Hark.

      But he still knows the importance of embracing technology like text messaging and social networking sites.

      "Don't depend on one thing. Have as many backups as you can. To say it's going to be a strong, main line support, I doubt that's going to happen," says Hark.

      Adams County's Emergency Management Director John Simon agrees. He says people depend on cell phones, land lines, and internet everyday. But in an emergency, you may or may not have power. You may or may not lose phone service, you may or may not have cell phone coverage that allows you to access e-mail or a social networking site. That's why you should have a plan.

      "The family really should sit down as a unit and decide how to communicate and who are we going to communicate with," says Simon.

      And this month is a perfect time to do just that. September is National Preparedness Month. You should figure out a communications plan, and it's also a great time to put together a home emergency pack.

      Here are some suggested items for a home emergency pack:

      Battery powered radio

      Canned food/nonperishable items

      Bottled water

      First aid kit

      Change of clothing


      But don't forget how useful a Twitter or Facebook account may be. If you have access on your phone, but no power or landline phone, you can post an update to let your family know you're safe. John Hark also reminds you of this.

      "Even if a cell phone tower is down, in a lot of occasions you can still text,"

      Hark is taking part in a training next month to deal with loss of communications. He says he has to figure out a way to communicate with the State Emergency Management Agency when all traditional ways of communicating are down.

      KHQA also checked in with an Associate Professor of Homeland Security at Western Illinois University about this.

      Dean Alexander agrees, social networking is just one more tool to have at our disposals.

      But he also pointed technology is neutral, it's the person behind it that makes it good or bad.

      From his standpoint of Homeland Security, he told me terrorists use social networking to recruit.

      He also says some countries may use cyber terrorism against he U-S instead of traditional weapons.