Social networking is now being used by emergency preparedness and response personnel. Jeannette Sutton, a research coordinator at the University of Colorado's Natural Hazards Center thinks that online information networks will change the way people communicate during disasters. Sutton began researching the role of social media in warnings and risk communications during the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. She noticed that wall posts on Facebook were sharing accurate information regarding the murders before it was released by officials. Everyone around the United States was providing information, and it was not done haphazardly. Sutton's dealings with the 2007 California wildfires showed her that the online public can actually provide accurate data. The wildfires were one of the first times that Twitter was used as a disaster communications tool. During the mishap, "citizen journalists" started posting their corrections to misinformation regarding evacuations that was being transferred from public officials. Researchers, like Sutton, are not the only ones who are noticing the social media trend. An article on CNN.com examined the ways that police and fire departments are using Twitter and Facebook to provide information, such as crime tips, suspect descriptions, Amber Alerts, press releases, and road closings, to the public. Federal agencies, such as FEMA, the Centers for Disease Control, and the CDC are also utilizing social media outlets. Although officials are aware of the presence of social media, Sutton feels they could examine it more. "Officials still pay very little attention to social media," she says. "Surprisingly, we still have barriers to break with getting public officials to look at information shared in blogs, and they've been around for much longer than these other technologies. Perception is everything, really."
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