In Case of Emergency: Technology in Times of Crisis

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We were incredibly saddened to learn about the explosions at the Boston Marathon on Monday. Like many others, we first heard about the news on social media. Updates soon came in from everyone and everywhere.

During times of crisis it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to respond, especially as a business just starting out in the brave new world of modern technology. We’ve compiled a guide to help.


We’ll mention this social network first because in many ways, Twitter has become the place to learn about an event as it happens. Last year’s summer Olympics were filled with examples of how the world can now share news and reactions. A crisis like Monday’s tragedy is a less joyous but perhaps even more important display of the social network’s strength.

First responders were able to get information from witnesses and communicate warnings to the public in real time. News outlets didn’t have to wait for reporters to get to the scene: average people posts accounts, images, and video as they occurred. Support for victims poured in. The hashtag “#bostonmarathon” quickly alerted people to the event and allowed new information to be separated from the general Twitter noise.

This ability to instantly connect with an ongoing event presents new responsibilities. If your business is on Twitter, it’s important not to say the wrong thing at the wrong moment. Major brands caught flack last November when formerly innocent scheduled tweets appeared insensitive in the light of the Newtown, Connecticut shooting. Here are some tips from Sear Engine Land on how to respond as a business on social media:

  • Stop any schedule tweets or other social media posts and examine them in light of the news.
  • Thoroughly check hashtags before using them for promotional work (you may be referencing something you didn’t mean to).
  • If you post, make sure it is something designed to uplift or aid the conversation rather than merely offer promotion.

Remember that these tips don’t just apply to your business account. Individuals are increasingly a part of a company brand. Your seemingly “private” thoughts may reflect back on your place of employment, so think twice before you post about the news to your connections.


People turn to Google for everything, and a tragedy is no different. After seeing the news on Twitter we immediately searched for news articles that might provide more context and background for what happened. Google Plus utilizes hashtags like Twitter, and soon the feed for #bostonmarathan was overflowing with reports.

Google also responded to the event quickly with a Person Finder designed to aid people searching for loved ones or who might have information to share about their condition. This kind of resource was especially valuable once cell phone coverage briefly went down in the aftermath of the explosions.

Checking Google for updates in a tragedy (and potential search aids like the People Finder) is natural. Just like with Twitter, though, it might reveal something that now appears in poor taste. Searches on Google are more likely ignore extraneous posts than on Twitter, but it’s not a bad idea to reexamine your website’s content in light of what people might accidentally land on. Adding a temporary message offering support to the victims or information on how to get to emergency websites would help searchers who accidentally land on your website.

Here’s a good way to target that kind of response: head to your Google Analytics account and check what keywords bring people to your website. If a quick glance reveals anything similar to terms related to the event, look at what landing pages attract those keywords and target them for a specific message. Not sure what terms might suddenly become important? Google Trends tracks search data over time: look for a sudden spike to determine what keywords are liable to be “hot” for a while.


Don’t leave off thinking about social posts or website content. Many businesses are also engaged in online advertising across a wide variety of sites and screens. These online ads aren’t carefully placed in planned spreads like an actual human editor would. Instead, algorithms control when, where, and how an ad appears.

If your business could be linked to the tragedy in any way, it’s best to pause that advertising rather than risk it showing up in the wrong context. Remember, the algorithm won’t be able to tell that a sudden interest in words related to explosives doesn’t necessarily mean people want to buy more fireworks.

Even if your business isn’t in an industry related to the tragedy, be careful that your advertising doesn’t come across as profiting from it.


Finally, we know that business owners are also people first and foremost, and that you or someone you know might be part of an event like the Boston Marathon. The first place most people turn to for anything is their phone. However, mobile phone networks often go down during times of high intense usage, which unfortunately includes disasters. Here are some tips from Wired magazine on what to do when that happens:

  • Text or use messaging apps rather than making calls.
  • If you’re near the scene, preempt inquires by letting people know you (and your business) are OK. Change your voicemail message if people are likely to call asking for information.
  • Switch from hotspots to a hardwired connection to make sure you don’t loose access.
  • Have a contact in your phone marked as “Emergency” or ICE (“In Case of Emergency”) so first responders know who to call first if something happens.