Emergency Management: Using Social Media to Save Lives?

According to a recent American Red Cross survey,  more than one-third of citizen respondents surveyed  said they expected help to arrive in less than one hour if they posted a request to an emergency response agency on Facebook or Twitter.  The problem here is that these assumptions could put a person in a ‘life or death’ situation if the First Responder group is not monitoring these platforms.

So the question is…

Has Emergency Management incorporated Social Media into their communication strategy?

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is listening and responding to this new public pattern of communication.  Federal Coordinating Officer Don Keldsen is quoted in a recent press release:  “Events worldwide have demonstrated how quickly social media can connect people and allow them to share information and help one another.  We have been able to reach the survivors of disasters through our continued posting to social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook.”

“The louder the voices from the ground, the better the response will be.  Access to accurate and timely information from the ground during post-crisis response  periods will enable humanitarian responders to act more efficiently,” said one volunteer involved in the evaluation of the Usahidi Haiti Project

Social Media offers real-time exchange of information on a Global scale!  An obvious advantage,  BUT all of that information is a double-edged sword.  One of the challenges emergency management has is the extra resources needed to manage this large amount of information:  to find the right conversation, analyze it and respond to it in a timely fashion.

There are other obstacles to overcome:  Professionals not familiar with social media face technical challenges, and policies/operational procedures/laws must now be adjusted to accommodate this new shift in communication. These are all factors that keep the pace of advancement towards the ultimate goal of eliminating communication silos between EM and the public, and between agencies within the EM umbrella (Fire, Police, Mayors office, etc).

But this is a work in progress.

Emergency management is taking the use of social media as a communication tool very seriously, and moving forward with great strides despite their challenges.  Online focus groups such as www.sm4em.org  have been created to support Social Media usage within the EM profession, creating chat opportunities such as #SMEM on Twitter.  Industry Conferences have recently offered sessions on best-practices  (i.e. WCDM, ASIS conference).  Most local municipalities have  started to engage with their communities on social media to best prepare them for emergencies in their areas – EMBC  offered a list of emergency #Hashtags to monitor during an event (May 2012).

What is our responsibility, as the public, to support our Emergency Management teams?

I believe that we should..

  • Be a part of the learning process.  It is just as much our responsibility to know HOW to communicate with our local first responders groups during an emergency.
  • Be forthcoming with any information that we have during an event that can help our emergency management teams respond effectively during or after an event. (I.e. video, pics, information, etc.).
  • Be smart about what is said online during a crisis to eliminate unnecessary information for EM to have to filter through

How is your local community emergency management team using Social Media?

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4 thoughts on “Emergency Management: Using Social Media to Save Lives?

  1. Pingback: Halton Region: Social Media is part of their Emergency Plan | Laura L Dunkley

  2. Pingback: Emergency Management and Communications | Laura L Dunkley

  3. The time is now where we have to redefine our communications with the public in times of crisis- social media is the new telephone- we all have to start adopting ways to use it securely and effectively, and have social media outliets talk with our infrastructure.

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