POSTED: Monday, March 19, 2012 - 8:00am
UPDATED: Monday, March 19, 2012 - 8:04am
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — When tornados struck the South and Midwest earlier this month the Red Cross was ready to roll out its new Digital Operations Center.
The Red Cross was monitoring Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, looking to see what people in the affected areas were saying.
"We saw a lot of people who were looking for lost loved ones or checking in to say they were okay," says Laura Howe.
"As things are happening they may not know what's happening around them because they're hunkered down in their basement," adds Gloria Huang.
As it turns out many were hunkered down with the internet through their mobile devices.
That's what gave the Red Cross access to those in the storm's path, to dole out instantaneous advice and what they call "digital hugs".
"Offer some quick and helpful tips about what they needed to do to keep themselves safe during the tornados," Howe explains.
"We can see them online and just extend a hand and say 'Hey, here's how you can get help if you need it and we're here for you. So, here's our digital hug to you," says Huang.
The Red Cross is the first humanitarian relief agency to turn to social-media monitoring to offer help even as a disaster is occurring.