Last week a very good friend of mine suffered a massive heart attack. He is 34 years old and, thankfully, is on the mend and will return home soon. But not before flat-lining 4 times and spending nearly a week in the ICU, in a country 1000+ miles away from many of his friends and all of his immediate family. Needless to say, a heart attack at his age came as a surprise to all of us.
It was inevitable that Facebook and smartphones would come into play as a means of disseminating information on his condition to friends and loved ones both near and far. But the manner in which each is used in such an emotionally charged and catastrophic event should be examined.
Telecommunications (voice and SMS; Facebook Messaging for Mobile): In the early stages of the emergency, there was an outpouring of on-site aid given by close friends and neighbors. Then word spread quickly over the "coconut telegraph" and my phone began to ring incessantly with people who were concerned and wanted to help. That's a wonderful thing! But tying up a telephone line when it needs to be open for family and loved ones - and medical professionals - does not help in an emergency situation such as this. In fact, it exacerbates it. It puts the wife and the guy in the ambulance dealing with the emergency on the spot and adds stress to an already extremely stressful situation.
Using SMS (text messaging) and Facebook Messaging (especially for those who are located out of country) allows those with concern to offer their help and express their concern without the intrusion of a voice call. Text messages may then be answered as time allows. They may then be forwarded to others so that accurate information can be clearly communicated. Relaying voice calls can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications, which can cause more problems than those at hand. Using SMS in the early stages of an emergency - if you are not directly involved in it - is by far the best way to show your support for those who are involved without unintentionally making things worse.
Facebook: Do not be so quick to update your status on Facebook in the event of an emergency of this kind, no matter how genuinely concerned you are. Imagine being the father, brother or best friend of the victim and, before you have been notified by telephone by those directly involved in the emergency, you find out through a mutual friend's status update on Facebook that your son, brother or best friend has just had a heart attack! It would be horrible, to say the least.
Facebook, in this situation, was the best way to communicate my friend's status and condition to friends, family and loved ones. BUT! Not until all of his immediate family had been notified by telephone by someone close to the situation on exactly what had happened and what was happening. (It should be noted that tweets with a hash tag would have worked too, but not to many of his friends and family are on Twitter).
Once the "all clear" sign was given by the immediate family, one of my friend's childhood best friends made a single post on his own page and tagged people in it to get the information out to those who needed it most. That post was then shared by other friends on their own pages for friends of friends to see and so that nothing was lost in translation. As more information became available, more posts - or comments on previous posts - were used to disseminate it.
Facebook and smart phones are invaluable tools for dealing with all of those involved in an extreme family emergency. But there is some very important - and very simple - etiquette that needs to be followed in order to make a bad situation better instead of making it worse. So think twice before pressing that button or making that call. Ask yourself, "What if it was me?"