Social networking in emergencies

I am certainly not the first to say that social networking is important to emergency services but I will say that I don’t think it’s quite ready.  Recently the National Weather Service started beta testing a new Twitter storm reporting system.  I think this bodes well for NWS and their forward thinking but the implementation is not working.  Basically anyone can report whatever they want and this leads to a lot of useless data.  The NWS deserves credit for trying but I don’t think that Twitter can be relied on for reports that could result in warnings (it’s not now but it would make sense that this is what they were testing for).  Facebook is another resource that is finding it’s way into the public safety realm.  Facebook is great for developing a web presence and generating some interest.  In fact, I created an account for the fire department I serve and we receive about 500+ views a week with around 200+ members.  I also created a twitter page for information advisory type posts in twitter.

Here is where I see the strength in social networking: data mining.  The current systems are not really reliable to count on during emergencies but immediately after disasters you can search Facebook and twitter to see what people are talking about.  After the Virginia Tech shooting there was a Facebook group started and people had accounted for their friends and colleagues before the first responders did.  People tweet about disasters as they are happening.  In closing, you can’t count on any single resource for information.  Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, talking directly to people, 911 calls, etc… You need to create a picture of what is occurring, size up basics, and to do that you need to use everything you have available.  I don’t see social networking as the future of emergency management but it’s certainly a tool and it could be a very important tool with proper use.


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